"Just a few months after getting married, in early 2013, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Testicular cancer is rare to begin with and, for a 41 year-old, very unusual. Like many people, I considered the diagnosis a death sentence and spent an awful 24 hours thinking my time with my new wife, whom I felt blessed to have married, would be very short.
But then I learned the kind of testicular cancer I had was “pretty much the best cancer you can get” (according to my first oncologist). This reassured me and I had the necessary orchiectomy a week later. I hoped that would be the end of it.
But 2 years later — this time just a few months after the birth of my first child — the cancer returned, metastasizing to my lymph nodes.
This was both harder and much more scary. Chances of survival remained excellent — among the best of any cancer — but I still had to wonder if my new son would grow up without a father. With months of chemo ahead, it was also going to be a longer road.
I put my head down and got through it. My wife and friends were extremely supportive: people took turns to shuttling me to and from the hospital ward for chemo, my two best friends from college flew across the country just to visit for a few days, and my wife’s mother came halfway around the world to help care for our newborn son. It was pretty amazing to have such a network — especially when the chemo regularly provoked late night visits to the ER to deal with complications and then my fear of death would spike.
But I was surprised to discover my overwhelming emotion throughout this was a sense of how lucky I was. Every day, when I went to the hospital chemo ward, I saw so many patients who were so much worse off than I. Either their prognosis was worse, or they were deep into later rounds of chemo, or it was clear the process was a financial strain. In some cases, it was all of the above.
I was so grateful I “just” had stage 2 testicular cancer and the health insurance to cover it.
But secondarily, I was also grateful for two more things. Classical music (which chemo finally made me educate myself about as I blocked out the sounds of the hospital with headphones) and video games. I bought myself Obsidian’s “Pillars of Eternity” at the start of my chemo and leapt into it each day as I sat on the drip in the chair.
A few months after it was declared the chemo had worked for me, my wife’s mother was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer and we spent 6 months away from home caring for her as she died.
After this, games came to my rescue once more. I had essentially spent 2 years dealing with cancer, unable to focus on work, and, as a freelancer, that was devastating to our family’s income — and our health insurance. But then Wizards of the Coast gambled on me and gave me an opportunity to get back on my feet — an opportunity for which I will be always grateful.
Toward the end of 2020, I passed 5-years-clear. And I wanted to mark the occasion with this fundraiser.
But specifically I wanted to mark it with a Gamers vs Cancer fundraiser focused on Health Equity.
Why Gamers vs Cancer? I am a gamer, and games helped me survive cancer — mentally, emotionally, and economically.
Why Health Equity? For years, as the chemo bills and subsequent check-up and scan bills rolled in and I saw the tens of thousands of dollars my insurance was covering, it has been on my mind constantly how terrible it would be to have to deal with everything and then have the stress of paying for it on top of that.
I remember too clearly, the first day of chemo, even my (very good) insurance from the Writer’s Guild would not immediately pay for the best anti-nausea medication. My doctor was required to “try” the not-so-good medication first. If that didn’t work, only then would the insurance allow him to prescribe the one everyone knew actually worked — but was something like $200 a pill.
That first night was one of the worst nights of my life. My wife genuinely thought I might die from the violence of how sick I was when the cheaper anti-nausea medication, to no one’s surprise, didn’t work.
I was put on the better medication the next day and, thankfully, it worked well enough. (I still can’t see the Pillars of Eternity logo without feeling nauseous or tasting metal). But just that single night made me think about what it would be like if I had worse insurance or, God Forbid, no insurance. What corners would I be forced to cut in my treatment? How would I pay for the corners that couldn’t be cut?
This is why I’d like the money in this fundraiser to be earmarked specifically for the American Cancer Society’s Health Equity approaches. This is only more vital and important right now when so many people have lost their insurance (and their livings) thanks to the Covid pandemic." -Nic Kelman