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A diver with the West Virginia University swim team has overcome a number of challenges – including a battle with testicular cancer. He is in the care of Dr. Lawrence Einhorn.
He’d like to say he knows about his family history. But Alex Obendorf was adopted from Russia and has a limited medical history.
But about a year ago, when he was diagnosed with testicular caner, his mother, Karen Keller, helped him track down his biological family. “The only information I know about my medical history is that my birth mother passed from cancer last year. I communicate with my older biological siblings in Russia frequently and they have been praying and remaining hopeful throughout this whole life-changing experience of battling cancer,” said Obendorf, who turns 24 in July.
That battle began the same month as his 23rd
About six months earlier he began experiencing extreme fatigue, difficulty concentrating, dizziness, and severe lower back pain – some symptoms similar to kidney stones, he said. His mother took him to ER. Blood work and scans showed a mass. Surgery followed a month later and he was diagnosed with Stage 3 testicular cancer. The cancer had spread to his lymph nodes. Four months of chemotherapy followed at a hospital close to his home in Hudson, Ohio.
The news and the treatment came as a blow to Obendorf. He was in his senior year at West Virginia University studying international studies with an emphasis on business. He was also physically fit.
As a toddler he took to the water like a fish and at the age of nine he began diving. “Watching the Summer Olympics, along with being involved in both gymnastics and swimming for years before, sparked my interested and I started taking diving lessons,” said Obendorf.
Eventually, he took the sport to the next level and joined travel teams, competing regionally and nationally. In 2012, as a sophomore in high school, he won the State Champion title at the Ohio Division 1 State Swimming & Diving Championship. He placed second his junior year and began looking at options to dive at the college level.
Then he was met with another hurdle.
In August of 2013, he was involved in a serious car accident that resulted in a concussion.
“I had difficulties with my academics and I was unable to participate on the swimming and diving team my senior year of high school,” said Obendorf. Still he persevered. Nine months after the accident, he returned to training. As a freshman at West Virginia University he became the school’s first diver to qualify for the NCAA Zone Meet in 2014.
“Becoming a member of WVU Men’s Swimming and Diving Team was a big motivation for me, as well as the support from friends, family and teammates who played a large role in overcoming obstacles and challenges during a difficult time in my life,” said Obendorf. He didn’t know it then but one of his greatest obstacles was yet to come.
Four months of chemotherapy wiped out three of the four types of cancer but didn’t attack the mass that had grown in Obendorf’s aorta and his vena cava. His oncologist referred him to IU Health for a retroperitoneal lymph node dissection, including removal of the large mass in his abdomen. He became a patient of IU Health urology specialist Dr. Clint Cary and oncologist Dr. Lawrence Einhorn, best known for his successful treatment of testicular cancer - germ cell tumors - using a mix of high does chemotherapies and peripheral stem cell transplant.
“When meeting Dr. Einhorn and the rest of the staff, I felt that the patient care was phenomenal. I felt like they all were personable and knowledgeable,” said Obendorf. “They provided me with very informative and insightful information about my diagnosis and the steps required moving forward toward recovery.”
During his recovery, Obendorf had time to reflect on his future and is moving forward with a different career path.
“After battling cancer and other health issues, I felt that business was not my ‘calling’ so to speak, and wanted to pursue something more personal and fulfilling,”
said Obendorf. After completing his undergraduate degree, he hopes to enter the Master’s Program in Mental Health and Rehabilitation Counseling.
“I have a deep appreciation for the many people who have helped me through the several difficult, yet transformative experiences in my life,” said Obendorf. “I hope to help others who are going through or facing similar obstacles.”
-- By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health. Reach Banes via email firstname.lastname@example.org.