The meaning of life

I was shocked when the doctor, after a one-minute check up, told me the news. Emptiness invaded my body. I thought about yesterday when I played soccer for two hours and biked 20km, an up-coming work meeting at 9am, going dancing Saturday night. Not only did I have a rare type of cancer, but it had been inhabiting my right testicle for more than a year. A year? Less than a year ago, I was getting married! Suddenly, my thoughts were spinning: Will I die soon? What will happen to my dreams?

I ran home to my wife, she held me and said we were too young to face this. The world ended, but we stayed strong together. Our love made us feel sure that this fight could be fought together. A surgery to remove the malicious tumor was scheduled for three days after I received the news. Instead of Chemotherapy, I opted to have regular medical check ups. Seven months later, which was around Christmas time, my blood values had sky rocked again and the emptiness came back. The dormant cancer woke up. It metastasized in the lymph nodes in my stomach and chemotherapy was the only option to survive. The night before the first treatment, my wife shaved my hair, a symbol of change. The next day, I had a strange element implanted in my chest, a gate for the chemotherapy to access my veins directly in order to kill every fast growing cell, good or bad.

From that day on, my goals changed: to heal my soul, to be a whole person again, and to rebuild my home from the ashes that cancer left and myself. I did all those things, but it never really leaves you; I will always be a cancer survivor. The looping cycle of check-ups never ends and the person I am now will never be the same as the one it used to be. How does one’s identity transform when our biological home, the one that we call our body, is put under scrutiny and jeopardized? We change our perspective on mortality and the time that is given to us. We evolve into something simpler, happier and braver.

Each year, we use this project to raise awareness about testicular cancer and participate in fundraising for different organizations. In 2018 and 2019, we organized an exhibition in Madrid and Bilbao correspondingly for the Movember Foundation. In 2020, we partnered up with Ralph Lauren and participated in their Pink Pony campaign for cancer awareness, and with their support raised funds for the Asociación Española Contra El Cáncer.

This project has been published online in the Washington Post and in print in Polka and Stern. It was also selected in 2020 for the Helsinki Photo Festival.

If you want to hear more about the project, please listen to The Conduit podcast hosted by Paul van Zyl.