“ Taking an active role in your care, learning about your disease, being comfortable with your doctors and getting 2nd and 3rd opinions when needed are key. But, the ultimate decisions are up to the individual facing the diagnosis.
Mike Craycraft is the second testicular cancer thriver we are highlighting this month! Mike was working as a Clinical Pharmacist in Ohio-Florida when he was diagnosed with Testicular Cancer! He created Testicular Cancer Society and now travels the world to reduce the burden of testicular cancer by increasing awareness, education and support to fighters, survivors and caregivers. He has worked as a pharmacist in a variety of settings: hospitals, medical centers, and long term care facilities in both Florida and Ohio. His unique insight into both sides of healthcare as a professional and patient intrigued us. We’ve connected with him at many young adult survivor conferences over the years! We were very fortunate to find time in his busy schedule to ask him a few questions!
mK: Thanks for doing this Mike! First question… What/ when was your diagnosis? How did you find out about your diagnosis?
MC: On June 29, 2006 I went into the hospital to request a copy of my own pathology report and on the way ourt read that I had stage I testicular cancer (seminoma). My urologist had originally told me on June 15th that I most likely had cancer but the report confirmed it. It would have been nice if this was one of the times that the doctor was wrong.
mK: What were your symptoms?
MC: Seven months earlier I had just happened to feel a ridge/lump on my testicle when I was adjusting myself. I “knew” immediately it was cancer but, unfortunately, I waited 7 months to tell a doctor what I had found. At the time, I had spent over a decade caring for people in hospitals as a clinical pharmacist but I just never took much initiative in my own care.
mK: Why did you decide to start the Testicular Cancer Society? What is your mission? Events?
MC: Just after diagnosis, in a moment of disappointment/frustration, is when I first thought about starting an organization. The more I kept thinking about it I realized that with a medical background and survivor experience that I really was in a kind of unique position to help others. When I started learning of the needs of others I knew that there was no turning back as I wanted to help solve those unmet needs.
mK: That is a great call to action! Who is your hero or heroes?
MC: Haha! That is a tough question and I’m usually better with witty answers to it than a real ones. To be honest, I’m not sure that I have one hero. I tend to look highly upon a lot of people and try to emulate their best qualities but never idolize them too much as everyone is going to have a fault somewhere. I guess my literal answer would be my Pop. There is a lifesavings award that hangs in my room as a constant reminded of the day my Pop saved my life as a young kid. I guess he is my literal hero because I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for him.
mK: What motivates you?
MC: I think learning motivates me. I was an average student and then as a sophomore in high school something switched. I suddenly learned how to teach myself and have never stopped. I found that pharmacy school was about 10% of a gain of knowledge and 90% just showing I could follow a long-term goal. I essentially had to learn medicine on my own after graduation and it has constantly been the self-learning that has gotten me to where I am today. Of course, I like to be the best at things too so that never hurts as a motivator but it is definitely secondary.
mK: HAHAHA! Competition can bring out the best (and sometimes the worst) in all of us! When was the first time you felt like yourself after your diagnosis?
MC: Immediately. My challenge was the 7 months of emotional hell that I put myself through before I ever went to the doctor. I had “assumed” that I had metastatic disease and “accepted” that I was going to die as a young man. I even threw my own “going-away” party without telling anyone that I thought I had cancer. Once the official diagnosis came I started shouting from the rooftops and have never stopped. That is another one of the reasons I stated the Testicular Cancer Society as I knew that I was not afraid of using my voice to raise awareness and be an open book about my disease so that others could learn.
mK: Cool. What makes you laugh, cry, angry?
MC: Someone once said I had a smart sense of humor. I can find humor and laugh at just about anything but slapstick doesn’t do much for me. I found that after diagnosis I tear up more than ever and especially related to stories of triumph, people rallying behind another and acts of generosity and kindness. I guess I am just a little softer than before diagnosis but I love it and would never change it. Show me the ending of It’s A Wonderful Life and I cry like a little baby. I get really angry when I see others taking advantage of or picking on someone weaker. I am not a big guy but I will find some way to be bigger that the bully and put them in their place one way or another.
mK: What would you say is the most interesting thing you’ve ever done?
MC: Wow, that is a tough too. Last year, I went to Africa and climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro. The physical task itself isn’t that incredible I guess but Kili is one of the 7 Summits and I summited 7 years to the exact date that I was diagnosed, after having waited 7 months to be diagnosed. The triple 7s repeated itself as I ended up coming home on 7/7 at 7pm. Personally the entire trip was just incredible and interesting. However, the most interesting thing has to be being diagnosed with cancer. It has led to an enlightenment and human connections that I never would have gained otherwise.
mK: What was the toughest challenge you faced as a survivor? How did you overcome it?
MC: My challenge came before diagnosis when I made peace that I had a wonderful life, that I was more fortunate than many others and while I was not happy about it that I could make peace that I was going to die. I sure am glad that I was wrong in my thinking. I think one thing I have faced after diagnosis is perhaps treatment guilt. There is so much physical suffering that comes with a cancer diagnosis and I didn’t really face any of the physical aspects. After a short outpatient surgery to remove my left testicle I went on active surveillance and did not receive chemo, radiation or more surgery. Sometimes it can be hard to identify as a survivor when I was excluded from all of the physical suffering.
mK: All survivors have battles to fight in varying degrees, but we all face something very scary and can awaken a new spirit in us. As long as we are fighting these diseases together, WE can make a difference! Anyways, what is your guilty pleasure?
MC: Hmmm? I guess I would say reality t.v. marathons. It doesn’t matter if it is home improvements or housewives but if there is a marathon of shows I can get sucked into it and then feel guilty that I should be doing more constructive. I do enjoy a good rainy weekend marathon though.
mK: HAHAHA! If you could have lunch with ANYONE (dead or alive), who would it be? Where would you go?
MC: So many choices. I might have to pick Jimmy Buffett. I would learn to how he managed to captured escapism and storytelling. He is one of only 7 authors to be #1 on the NY Times best-seller list for fiction and non-fiction which I think is pretty incredible. I would just hope he would rub a little storytelling talent on me.
mK: Jimmy Buffett wrote books too? Interesting… What do you like to do in your spare time?
MC: What I love but never get to do is go incommunicado. Just take some time to step away and not carry all of the daily pressures. No phones, no computers, just aimlessly spending time. But, more realistically, I can’t think of one outdoor activity I don’t like except maybe picking up dog poop. So anything outdoors.
mK: HAHAHA! What are you up to now?
MC: As I write this I am on a plane to Connecticut to give talks to high schools and a college next week on testicular cancer. I love flying and not even the 4 hour delay before boarding bothered me so it is a great day.
mK: Any advice for people or loved ones that get daunting diagnoses?
MC: Taking an active role in your care, learning about your disease, being comfortable with your doctors and getting 2nd and 3rd opinions when needed are key. But, the ultimate decisions are up to the individual facing the diagnosis.
mK: Tell us something about yourself that people probably didn’t know… anything.
MC: As a kid I was a member of the Maddux Mustangs Unicycle Team. We did all sorts of parade and half-time show performances. Just for the record, riding a unicycle does not give you testicular cancer. It is just a coincidence that they have one wheel and I now have one testicle.
mK: HAHAHA! Any parting words for all the mAss Kickers?
MC: We face some huge challenges in life and there are ups and downs but just never give up. Remember, we didn’t give up after the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor right? So just be excellent to each other and party on dudes!
Mike Craycraft: Pharmacist, retired unicyclist, world traveler, reality TV addict, testicular cancer survivor, and driven testicular cancer advocate. Please check out Testicular Cancer Society We’ll have to keep an eye on what you are up to next and look forward to reconnecting at the next conference.