Cancer survivor: 'Basically, they were going to have to almost kill me, in order to make me better'

Two survivors say beating cancer was hard, but so was life after the battle.

October 19, 2012

By Rebecca Kruth

 

Friends Joe Schneider and Jonny Imerman both fought cancer and won, all before their 30th birthdays.

Schneider was diagnosed with Burkitt’s non-Hodgkin's lymphoma at 18, and Imerman with testicular cancer at 26. 

 

StoryCorps’s mission is to provide Americans of all backgrounds and beliefs with the opportunity to share, record and preserve their stories. These excerpts, edited by WBEZ, present some of our favorites from the current visit, as well as from previous trips.

Both men knew they were in for a fight.

After surgeries to remove the cancerous tumors, they began the intense process of chemotherapy. 

SCHNEIDER: “The way the doctors described the protocol was in a short, two and-a-half month time frame, the amount of chemo they would give me is the equivalent of what most patients receive in two years. So basically, they were going to have to almost kill me to make me better.”

The treaments were accompanied by miserable side effects, a harsh reality the men had to accept.

SCHNEIDER: “Day one of chemo. I’m sitting there and all of the sudden I start to feel like I’m going to get sick, so I run to the bathroom. That was when I could still run, because I’d just started chemo. I’m throwing up uncontrollably, so I hit the little nurse’s light, you know? I’m like ‘I need help! I’m throwing up!’ The nurse comes in, and she’s like, ‘Oh my God, what’s wrong?’ I guess you’re really only supposed to use those if it’s a very big emergency, and I’m just throwing up. She was like, ‘Aw, get used to it.’” I mean, she said it nicely, but...”                                              

IMERMAN: “She’s like, ‘This is par for the course.’”

SCHNEIDER: “Yeah, par for the course.”

Schneider wanted to know if during treatment, Imerman had ever thought about dying.

IMERMAN: “I remember it like it was yesterday. I was lying in bed during chemo. I had a blood clot in my left arm, in my port, and my oncologist looked at me and said, 'Look, if a big chunk breaks off during this, it’s going to into your lung or your heart, and it will kill you. If you feel chest pains, that could be it, because that’s what it feels like.'"

After the procedure started, Imerman noticed a dot of blood soaking through the bandage on his arm and felt his heart start to pound. 

Then the chest pains started. 

IMERMAN: “I was like, ‘This must be when the curtains fall. They just close and it gets black and this is the end.’”

To find out what happened after the curtains started to fall, and what it’s like to come back after cancer, listen to the audio above.

—Adam Peindl and Katie Klocksin helped produce this report.