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Three couples from three states, once strangers, connect over cancer diagnosis

IU Health Simon Cancer Center

Three couples from three states, once strangers, connect over cancer diagnosis

They are all far from home, and fighting the same battle. These three couples have forged a friendship that started when the men were diagnosed with testicular cancer.

By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J. Banes,

Sometimes they stare out the window of the family room located on the third floor of Simon Cancer Center. They look at a utility pole that has a warning sign about half way to the top.

They laugh pondering why someone would need a warning that far up the pole. Other times they look at the sidewalk below and wave to passing strangers. Once in awhile they eat meals together from a local fast-food restaurant or warmed up in the microwave.

They talk about their families and their pets. More often than not, they talk about life back home in the country and why anyone would want to live in the city.

By sheer coincidence these three couples live in bordering Southeastern states. They are also linked by a disease that affects one in every 250 males – testicular cancer. The average age for diagnosis is about 33. It mostly affects young to middle-aged men, but about six percent of cases occur in children and teens and about eight percent occur in men over the age of 55.

Kaleb Ward and Charles “Chas” Goodson are both 23. Isaac McCurdy is 33.

Ward’s illness started with flu-like symptoms. He tested negative for viral infections but his health continued to decline. When he passed out and hit his head on the bathroom floor, he was rushed to an emergency room close to his home. Both his blood pressure and heart rate were elevated. Scans showed a five-inch tumor in Ward’s chest – the result of Stage Three testicular cancer. He traveled nearly 400 miles from his home in Knoxville, Tenn. to Indianapolis.

He’s in the care of Dr. Lawrence Einhorn, known for his successful treatment of testicular cancer - germ cell tumors - using a mix of high dose chemotherapies and peripheral stem cell transplant.

He recently celebrated his second wedding anniversary to his wife, Zavannah, who he met at a church function.

Goodson, from Vinton, Va. was first diagnosed on his 21st birthday, Oct. 28. 2018.

“It was completely by accident that we caught it the first time. I thought I had a hernia and instead I had a mass the size of two soda cans on my lungs, ” said Goodson, who married his long-time girlfriend, Lexi, three months ago. Their outdoor ceremony was set along the Blue Ridge Parkway in Roanoke, Va. in the pouring rain. After his initial diagnosis he underwent an orchotomy and a pulmonary lobectomy at a hospital back home.

The cancer returned on May 6 and he came to IU Health in July where he is completing his eighth round of chemotherapy since 2018.

Similarly, McCurdy’s cancer is a reoccurrence. Married for nine years to his wife, Katie, McCurdy is the father to a 9-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son. He was first diagnosed in 2015 after finding a lump in his testicle. A resident of Stony Point, N.C. he underwent two orchotomies, and four rounds of chemotherapy at a hospital closer to home. The couple then traveled to Indianapolis where McCurdy underwent a retroperitoneal lymph node dissection, in the care of IU Health Dr. Timothy Masterson. On July 26 the couple returned to IU Health a second time. McCurdy is also in the care of Dr. Einhorn.

“Our first visit with Dr. Einhorn was virtual. This is Isaac’s fifth reoccurrence. We’ve been dealing with this for five years and I learned more in that few minutes with Dr. Einhorn than I’ve learned in the past five years,” said Katie McCurdy. Her husband was four years and 10 months away from the five-year surveillance mark when the cancer returned. They learned about Dr. Einhorn through a support group for men with testicular cancer.

The McCurdys and the Goodsons first made a connection when Isaac McCurdy noticed the purple ribbon on Lexi Goodson’s t-shirt – the symbol for testicular cancer.

“They were admitted the same day and we immediately recognized the southern accent,” said Lexi Goodson. Later Ward joined them when his mom came to visit and learned that they all had the same diagnosis.

Goodson spends hours in the family lounge at IU Health Simon Cancer Center – it’s his window on the world. He became friends with another testicular cancer patient who was discharged and decorated the sidewalk below with chalk that read: “Chase Strong.”

As his two buddies fight fatigue and nausea, Goodson pipes in music on his portable speaker and offers words of encouragement. He’s also shared ginger candies with them that helped him with nausea.

“I’ll do anything I can to help them cope. I’ve never let this put me down. I’ve been so grateful in my life at such a young age. I can’t complain. I was out from under my parent’s wing at age 18. I’ve lived in Ohio, Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina,” said Goodson, who works as a pipeline mechanic. He and Lexi travel from one job to the next living in a 40-foot fifth wheeler with their rescue dog, Roscoe.

The couples talk a lot about travel – where they’ve been and where they want to go. They laugh about what they call shared “redneck terms” that others don’t understand.

Goodson’s wife describes him as an “eight-day clock” because he never stops running. On a recent day, the other two wives were lost for words to describe their spouses. “In here, Kaleb isn’t who he usually is. It’s nice to have people who get that,” said Zavannah Ward.

They can count on Goodson to dish up a dose of humor. He started a “ding-dong ditch” to get McCurdy up and moving in the mornings. On this day he wears a t-shirt picturing squirrels having a conversation. It reads: “It’s all fun and games until someone loses a nut.”

The shirt is something that he knows his friends understand. It’s his way of lightening the mood.

“We don’t always have a plan but just hanging out and talking helps pass the time,” said Goodson. “We’ve shared a lot with each other – some great conversations – and it’s been something that I think will continue after we’re discharged,” added his wife.

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