About the Author: Torsten Koehler is a testicular cancer survivor, lover of Cape Town and its beauty, and advocate for chasing your dreams and desires. He kicks off [MOVE]MBER – with his inspiring story.
Finding a lump was easy. Going to the doctor saved my life. I had testicular cancer in 1995 at the age of 30.
I’ve been through the whole program – my health and emotions on a roller coaster: surgery, chemotherapy, self-destructing thoughts, depression and turning into a miserable person. Slowly losing my energy and not coping with work, colleagues and friends anymore.
Have dreams and aims in life and fulfil them!
I made a bucket list when I was waiting for my results after the surgery because it felt like time was running out. I wrote down places I’d love to see before I die. The fear that the cancer would return was constantly on my mind. I gave up everything; my secure living, I resigned as a teacher and sold my car. I decided to backpack the world for two years to put to rest the cancer.
A long journey – around the world and back – to myself. During these 2 years I travelled to all the destinations that I had put on my bucket list when I wasn’t sure if I would survive: Helicopter ride over Manhattan, active volcano in Hawaii, Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Macchu Picchu, Great Barrier Reef, Glaciers in Chile… travelling to all the places on my bucket list was the best thing I’ve ever done. Giving wings to my desire! My dreams and aims in life were fulfilled and my zest for life returned. I returned to Namibia and started teaching again.
In 2007 I moved to Cape Town after quitting my job as deputy principal. I couldn’t see myself for another 25 years in a school’s office. Although I loved teaching, you obviously do less of it if you are in a managing position. Being a hobby photographer, I decided to teach myself all the design programmes needed to work as a graphic designer. I turned my hobby into my job and moved to Cape Town. Cancer taught me to live in the now and do what you love to do: design and Cape Town – no better place to fulfil dreams.
From Couch Potato to Comrades Runner
The last time I was fit was when we were chased around in the army 1988. After indulging in Cape Town’s good food and wine the weight scale reached the scary 3 digits. 100kg at the beginning of 2008. This was the turning point! I jokingly said to a very fit friend of mine that my new year’s resolution will be that I will always be 1 meter ahead of him when he runs up Lion’s Head by the end of 2008. Reinhard encouraged me to join him because he ran up Lion’s Head at least twice a week.
The first 3 months up Lion’s Head were torture: overweight, weak muscles and out of breath. Not a chance I could run. I walked. Thanks to Reinhard’s “peer pressure” I didn’t give up. By the end of that year I’d lost 13kg. Running became easier and more fun by the day!
“the body 200% in pain and the emotions on a 200% high”
After a while just going for a run became boring, I needed a challenge and so I entered my first 10km run, the Stellenbosch night run. I loved the vibe because everyone was there to have fun. After a few 10km runs, I entered my first half marathon and then in 2010, the Cape Town Marathon without telling anyone – just in case I didn’t make it. I finished in 4h26 and realized that I had qualified for Two Oceans Ultra. On a high I went home and immediately registered for Two Oceans. I finished the 2011 Two Oceans Ultra and thought even if I walk the last 30km of Comrades I can make it. On my 46th Birthday I finished Comrades in 11h13min. Crossing that finish line was a feeling I never experienced before: the body 200% in pain and the emotions on a 200% high. What a feeling!
I became a running addict and Lion’s Head stays my favorite – up till today!
Chemotherapy Changed my Lifestyle
“Chemotherapy seems almost worse than cancer itself, because it is an ordeal beyond description. If you have an illness other than cancer, treatment makes you feel better. But if you have cancer, treatment makes you feel worse. It is as if you went into hospital healthy and came out of it sick… Each drop of poison also contained the hope that eventually all cancer cells would be destroyed and I would regain my health some day. It was a beautiful thought paired with feeling rotten!” (Quote out of my book: Love Your Nuts – Testicular Cancer touched my Life)
At the beginning of my cancer journey I bought a juice extractor and had fresh juice every day. After a few fresh beetroot juices that taste like muddy dam water I stopped the “extremely healthy” drinking and eating. I decided to live a normal balanced life and not be dictated to by the cancer on what to eat or drink. These juices became a daily reminder of the cancer and that was more depressing than having a healthy muddy juice. I changed from extremely healthy to just balanced healthy. I’m not a fan of junk food anymore, although if I crave a pizza now and again I have it. If I see cool drinks I think “no thanks, I had enough chemicals pumped into my body during chemotherapy.” I prefer a fruit juice or water instead. I like fruit and vegetables and can go a day or two without meat. And if I go out for dinner I will order my steak with chips because I like it.
Eating healthier, running and allow yourself me-time is for me the best balance in life. If you exercise 100% then you can eat 100% – so let’s order dessert! Balance is what cancer taught me because no extremes can be good. I eat. I run. I rest. I gain weight. I lose it again. I enjoy life. My recent medical aid health assessment test calculated my body age at 39. I’m 54 – I guess I’m doing something right.
Give wings to your desire!
My aim is to make men aware of this young man’s cancer. I like to encourage cancer patients not to give up, but not only cancer patients. I want to give every person wings to their desire! Find your balance.
And guys – check your nuts for testicular cancer once a month! This is how.
(Testicular cancer survivor, Founder of Love Your Nuts)