In March 2009, New Jersey police officer Peter Hagerty was experiencing groin pain when he was getting in and out of his patrol car. Like many men his age, Peter shrugged it off for two weeks. By the third week, after realizing his testicle was rock hard, Peter told his wife, Eryn, an advanced life support paramedic. "Eryn sent me right to the doctor," recalled Peter, whose primary doctor referred him directly to a urologist. An ultrasound performed later the same day showed a tumor and the doctor suspected it was cancer. Peter, who was 36 and father to a toddler son, Cole, was in complete shock.
"Everything happened so quickly," recalled Peter, who was sent for various tests to confirm the cancer - and stage the disease. Within a few weeks, Peter underwent surgery at a nearby hospital to remove the testicle. Following surgery, the doctors explained to Peter that the cancer, which was Stage IIA, had spread to his retroperitoneal lymph node.
"When I learned how aggressive my cancer was, I decided to go to Fox Chase Cancer Center."
"I knew that they only treated cancer, so I figured Fox Chase was the best," explained Peter, whose urologist agreed with his decision. Upon arriving at Fox Chase, Peter and his wife met with Richard Greenberg, MD, a urologic surgeon. After evaluating Peter, Dr. Greenberg suggested a course of aggressive chemotherapy followed by surgery.
"Dr. Greenberg is terrific. We had complete confidence in him."
By Easter, Peter's medical oncologist, Elizabeth Plimack, MD, admitted him to the hospital for the first of four inpatient chemotherapy treatments. "We really liked Dr. Plimack, and the nursing care was unbelievable from start to finish," thought Peter, who had no complaints. After four cycles, Peter was considered ready for surgery.
On July 21, just 4 months from the time of diagnosis, Dr. Greenberg performed a retroperitoneal lymph node dissection. In addition to removing the cancer, this procedure reduced the risk of recurrence.
Throughout his journey, Peter has been using Lance Armstrong's web site to research what might be next. "I just kept thinking if Lance can do this with Stage IV testicular cancer, so can I," noted Peter, who is also in excellent physical shape.
Due to the nature of his work as a police officer, Peter could not return to work immediately after surgery. After a 3-month recovery, he returned to the force in November 2009, at which time he felt "90-95 percent. Just a little tired," admitted Peter.
Embarking on his 13th year as a patrol officer, Peter truly enjoys his work. For fun, he and Erin like to ski. They hope to introduce Cole to the sport in the next few years. For now, the couple is planning a weekend get-away to Vermont for some fun on the slopes.
"If it doesn't feel right, get it checked right away. Don't be embarrassed."
Looking back at 2009, Peter still finds it hard to believe he was diagnosed with cancer at 36. "With no family history of cancer, I was really shocked to learn I had it," shared Peter. "My advice to other men is if it doesn't look right or feel right, get it checked right away. Don't be embarrassed. You don't want to mess around with your health, especially if it's serious - like mine was."
The Hagertys were very happy with the care Peter received at Fox Chase. "I really could have gone anywhere," said Peter. "To get to Fox Chase, we drove past all the big Philadelphia university hospitals. But I chose Fox Chase because all they deal with is cancer." He still laughs when he recalls Dr. Greenberg dressed in Tabasco scrubs the day of his surgery. "Dr. Greenberg and Dr. Plimack are so positive - they definitely cheer you up."
"Don't give up."
Peter encourages other cancer patients to keep fighting. "Don't give up. No matter how bad you feel or how bad it looks. In the end, it's all worth it. I've got my wife and my son - what more could I want?"