When 21-year-old University of Arizona student Nick Palomares found out his testicular cancer had come back with a vengeance, he dropped out to focus on healing from "the disease of young men."
Palomares was diagnosed with testicular cancer in August 2012 and had a baseball-size tumor removed. Less than eight months later, cancer spots on his lungs and stomach appeared. Within weeks, he had to drop out of his junior year as a business economics major at UA and begin chemotherapy.
Nearly 8,000 men are diagnosed with testicular cancer in the United States each year, which works out to five people per 100,000. It was news to Palomares, his family and many of his UA classmates that testicular cancer is most common in men ages 15 to 35.
And while the prevalence is extremely low compared to other cancers in addition to having a high survival rate of about 95 percent when properly treated, testicular cancer is particularly dangerous because it grows at such a fast rate, according to doctors.
"After initial surgery, there is a 10 to 30 percent chance the cancer will come back. This is why patients are followed very carefully several months and years after," says Dr. Christopher DiSimone of Arizona Oncology. "Young males, beginning at age 15, should do periodic self-exams to check for lumps or masses in the testicle. If they see anything larger than normal, they should contact their primary-care doctor immediately."
On April 8, Palomares started his first round of IV chemotherapy, which lasted for five straight days of three- to four-hour treatments. The chemotherapy is rough and causes him stomach pains at night. In between treatments, Palomares has a two-week recovery period. He started his second cycle Monday. Doctors predict a total of four rounds of chemotherapy will be needed.
Though he has insurance through his parents, deductibles and co-pays are bringing Palomares' medical bills into the thousands. His parents are self-employed and run a local restaurant.
A fraternity alumnus who met Palomares only once created a Give Forward website to help cover treatment costs and raised close to $19,000.
"People I've never met before at the UA say, 'Here's $5, I've never met you but I know what you're going through.' To see that kind of communal support has been surreal," Palomares said.
Palomares' aunt, Christi Cisek, has organized a fundraiser sponsored by more than 70 local businesses scheduled for May 19 called "A Day in the Park With Nick," at Star Dance, which is a local wedding venue. Cisek hopes that the event will raise awareness and that people will hear Palomares' story, share it with their sons, nephews and grandsons. The biggest lesson is, if you suspect something, go to your doctor and don't wait, she says.
The use of Star Dance was donated in kind by Ron and Kelly Abbott, who previously bought Rincon Market from Paul and Christi Cisek in 2008 and stayed in touch. When they heard Palomares needed help, the Abbotts immediately offered their venue.
Cancer was the last thing Palomares, a healthy lifelong athlete, thought would happen to him.
"Before I was diagnosed, I'd never even had an IV. I've always been lucky to have great health. The last time I was in the hospital was for a broken hand when I was 8."
Most men diagnosed with testicular cancer have had no prior medical problems, according to DiSimone. The only known cause is previous history of an undescended testicle.
Nick's mother, Denise Palomares, says that cancer is not common in their family and that they were shocked to learn how quickly her son's disease had spread.
"It's the fastest-growing cancer that there is. When Nick was first diagnosed in 2012, the levels of the cancer marker in his blood went from zero to 2,000, which is considered Stage 2."
Nick Palomares points to mental toughness learned from growing up around sports as the thing that gets him through.
"It's like working hard to get that next goal - like in football, you work all summer and all season to make it to state. I look at everything like that. Even with cancer, it's a rough time right now, but I have to battle and reach that next state of healthy living," he says.
Palomares' spirit and character have pulled the family through the adversity of an unexpected serious illness, Cisek says.
"Knowing someone as a family member is one thing, but having total strangers share intimate details of what Nick means to them and how he's been there for them, I've learned about him through many sets of eyes and it's given me a different kind of respect for him than I already had."
"It's like working hard to get that next goal - like in football, you work all summer and all season to make it to state. I look at everything like that."
If you go
• What: "A Day in the Park With Nick"
• When: Noon to 4 p.m. on Sunday, May 19.
• Where: Star Dance, 8110 N. Scenic Drive
• Suggested donations: Varies from $15 to $35. Kids under 2 are free.
• Advance tickets: Rincon Market, 2513 E. Sixth St., every Tuesday from 6 to 7:30 p.m. until May14.
• More information: www.giveforward.com/fundraiser/rb62/helpnick or contact Christi Cisek 406-3344.
Courtney L'Ecuyer is a University of Arizona student who is an apprentice at the Star. Contact her at 573-4117 or at firstname.lastname@example.org