|23-year-old Kurtis Huss battles cancer|
|Written by Darci Tomky|
“There were several things that went through my head when I found out I had cancer. First and foremost was disbelief because I didn’t believe that I—a 23-year-old—could have cancer,” said Kurtis Huss who was diagnosed with stage 3-C testicular cancer five months ago.
Another terrifying thought was figuring out how to tell his family he had cancer, but his family and his fiancé Liz Melahn are the people who have helped get him from where he started in October to where he is now.
It was hard for 23-year-old Kurtis Huss to believe he has stage 3-C
This 2006 HHS grad ended up in the Urgent Care office in Fort Collins last October because of nausea and hot flashes. After some blood tests, Huss got a CT scan at Poudre Valley Hospital.
“Liz and I waited in the waiting area for about half an hour, expecting to find out I was going to have my appendix taken out,” said Huss. Eventually someone handed him the phone with the head radiologist on the other end. “I don’t remember too much of the phone conversation other than the person telling me there was an abnormal mass in my abdomen that was probably cancer, and that I needed to be admitted to the hospital immediately.”
Huss explained the situation to Melahn. “It suddenly sunk into me that I was going to have to call my parents and tell them that I had cancer,” he said.
The following day doctors ran all kinds of tests on Huss, revealing he not only had a large mass the size of an orange in his abdomen, he also had roughly 50 nodules in his lungs. “This was a very scary thing to hear because at this time we still did not know exactly what kind of cancer we were dealing with,” added Huss.
After a biopsy of the mass, Huss learned the tumor was a mixed germ cell tumor, which is one way testicular cancer manifests. Huss explained testicular cancer moves in a very predictable pattern from the testicle, to the abdomen, to the lungs, and finally to the brain.
As far as testicular cancer goes, Stage 3-C is “as bad as it gets,” said Huss. The cancer manifested in such a way that it was not easy for him to detect, since it was growing in the back of his left abdomen.
For other young people, Huss advised them to understand their bodies, and most importantly, understand when something is wrong with their bodies.
“I assumed I just had the ordinary flu for a while, but when the symptoms persisted for two weeks, I grew concerned,” he said. “It is possible in those two weeks the cancer moved from my abdomen to my lungs, but had I not finally gone to a doctor, it could very well have metastasized to my brain.”
Lucky to have detected the cancer before it reached his brain, he began a few different treatment options. Testicular cancer is a fairly rare form of cancer with only 8,000 new cases diagnosed in the U.S. every year; however, it’s also one of the most curable cancers with a survival rate at almost 95 percent, no matter what stage the cancer is caught.
First and foremost, Huss said, he needed a unilateral orchiectomy, which is the removal of the problem testicle, as well as the implementation of what is known as a “power port” in his collar bone, which is the device in which he would be given his chemotherapy.
Four cycles of chemotherapy lasted 12 weeks. For the first two cycles, Huss received treatment six hours each day for five consecutive days as an out-patient Monday through Friday (including Thanksgiving Day). Treatment on the following two Mondays completed one cycle.
After the first two cycles, another CT scan showed that none of the tumors in Huss’ body were shrinking. “This was almost more disheartening to hear than the initial diagnosis,” he said.
Huss then headed to Indiana University Medical Center in Indianapolis, Ind. to visit doctors there, including the foremost authority on testicular cancer as well as the group of doctors who treated seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong.
At their recommendation, Huss’ chemotherapy drugs were slightly tweaked for his last two cycles which began immediately when he returned to Colorado. He said these treatments were different because he was now an in-patient for six consecutive days in the hospital (including Christmas Day).
“This ‘cocktail’ of chemo drugs was much more difficult on my body and made me exponentially more nauseous than the first two cycles,” said Huss. But eventually, he completed cycles three and four just after the beginning of the new year.
It was great news for the Huss family to hear the tumors were shrinking. After meeting with the doctor in Indianapolis, they determined once Huss’ tumor marker numbers normalize, which should be within the next month, then they will perform surgery to take out the tumor in his abdomen.
“So right now I am getting weekly blood tests to check those numbers and anxiously awaiting them to normalize and have surgery,” said Huss.
Through all of this, Huss described cancer as an emotional roller coaster. He and his family have experienced the “lowest of lows” but also several highs that give them hope.
“I have an amazing fiancé, tremendous parents and an awesome sister who have been there through everything from sitting with me during chemo and flying out to Indianapolis with me, to making sure I eat and that I always had someone to talk to if I needed it,” said Huss.
When giving advice to others battling cancer, Huss said, “Never forget the people that were there with you every step of the way and made you fight so hard. Never forget they struggled just as much emotionally as you did, and that when you were too weak to do anything, they were the ones that were there for you.”
Of course, other relatives and friends have been a huge help in getting Huss to where he is today whether it was bringing meals or visiting him in the hospital.
Another thing that helped Huss get through this is Lance Armstrong’s book It’s Not About the Bike. Huss explained it’s about Armstrong’s battle with testicular cancer and how he was able to not only beat it, but to then go on to win the Tour de France seven times. “It really is an inspiring story because in his writing he does not hide any of the emotions he was feeling, and it was great to read this and know I wasn’t the only one that felt that way about having cancer.”
“Having cancer really hasn’t changed my outlook on life, but it has changed my perception of what life is,” Huss added. “I have, and definitely will continue to, slow down with life and enjoy all the things the world has to offer. One never really understands how much they enjoy the monotony of life until it is taken away.”
Reading, doing crossword puzzles, building model cars, coaching lacrosse and watching his beloved Nuggets, Rockies, Broncos, Avalanche and Mammoth were a few things Huss did to keep himself busy during this whole process.
Huss and his fiancé, who live in Fort Collins, plan to get married sometime in the near future. They also plan to take a trip to Park City, Utah this summer to coach in a lacrosse tournament with their team from Thompson Valley High School in Loveland. The couple and their team are also considering participating in a Relay For Life in the area.
Once he beats his cancer, this 2010 Colorado State University graduate will be looking for a teaching job on the Front Range.
Huss has been in contact with a Fort Collins organization called RamStrength which helps cancer patients in financial need get the money they need to help with bills and other expenses.
An account has also been set up with BeCause at Bank of the West in Holyoke. Donations can be dropped off at Bank of the West or mailed to Orville Tonsing at 411 W. Gordon, St., Holyoke, CO.
The Kurtis Huss Cancer Fund is another account through Wells Fargo. Donations can be dropped off at any Wells Fargo branch.