Mark Jainchill is a native Western New Yorker who moved to Las Vegas, NV, in the 1990s to work as a school counselor. As it turns out, all those students he helped for 25 years taught him a lot about himself.
“I listened to everyone’s problems,” Mark says. “I never wanted to discourage my students. Whatever they wanted to do or become, I wanted them to dream their dream. It’s important to believe.”
Those words would be remembered decades later when he was in the fight of his life.
An uncommon diagnosis
In February 2020, Mark went to an urgent care center for a bad pain in his side. Doctors thought that perhaps he pulled a muscle and prescribed pain medication, telling him to use a heating pad. As the pain persisted, he knew something wasn’t right.
“It was April 1 when I was told I had advanced testicular cancer with a mass in my abdomen,” Mark recalls. “I couldn’t believe it. I was 48 years old and led a healthy lifestyle, but hearing this hit me like a baseball bat over my head.”
This was an unusual diagnosis as testicular cancer is most frequently found in young adults, aged 20 to 35. It is much less common in men Mark’s age, which might be why his initial urgent care visit dismissed his symptoms.
Mark spent the next five and a half weeks in the hospital being monitored and treated for cancer. The doctors performed an orchiectomy, surgery to remove the affected testicle, and gave him his first round of chemotherapy, which made him feel very sick. Doctors had to put in a feeding tube due to the growing mass in his stomach. Things were rough and, to make matters worse, it was the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and Mark remained mostly alone.
“When I finally got out, my sister came to live with me. She was a teacher, and since everything was remote at the time, she taught her class back in Atlanta, GA, virtually, from my home in Las Vegas.”
Mark would receive three more regimens of chemotherapy to treat the tumor growing in his abdomen. But the side effects were feeling more damaging than the cancer itself.
“I would get so sick from the chemo, I’d have to take weeks off between my cycles,” Mark says. “I was deemed ‘too risky’ for surgery and was being treated at a general hospital in Las Vegas. I was in a cancer unit but they could only do so much.”
From there, Mark knew he had to return home to feel better.
Heading home begins the road to recovery
Though Mark still had some of his most challenging battles ahead of him, he recalls walking through the doors of Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center as when things turned a corner for him.
“Coming to Roswell Park gave me assurance and confidence that I could beat cancer.”
His first obstacle to overcome was recovering from the high-dose chemotherapy before his stem cell transplant, which involved a six-week hospital stay. Much like the chemo he received in Las Vegas, Mark suffered side effects that left him feeling weakened and sick, in addition to hearing loss and kidney dysfunction.
“Everything was a blur. I don’t remember too much from those few weeks,” Mark says. “That chemo knocked me on my butt. I have been an avid runner my whole life and I went to the gym four times a week, but now I was using a walker to get around the hospital.”
Mark also suffered from neuropathy, which causes tingling and numbness in the limbs, but like a true runner, it didn’t keep him sitting still for long.
“Every day, I pushed myself to walk, even if it’s just a little bit. Since I got home from the hospital, I’ve only missed four days. It can be tough some days to make myself go out, but I always feel better about it afterward.”
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Reconnecting and persevering
Mark’s tumor, which was 13 centimeters (cm) at the time of his initial diagnosis, shrunk to 7 cm after his initial chemotherapy in Las Vegas. Despite all he had to endure with his stem cell treatment and its rough side effects, it measured only 3.1 cm in February 2022.
In 2021, while hospitalized, Roswell Park nurses encouraged Mark to join Facebook and get in touch with old friends and students.
“It’s great to reconnect with people again,” Mark says, after being isolated for much of his cancer battle during the pandemic. “I feel like my old self again!”
So how does someone who has been through so much have the strength to keep fighting?
“Set a goal. Believe in it. Go for it,” Mark says proudly. “My goal was to beat cancer. Things happen in life. You’ll fall down. You just have to pick yourself up and persevere. These were the same things I would tell my students to encourage them to follow their dreams.”
Mark acknowledges that it all sounds cliché, but “Every word of it is true. Each day is a gift.”
Editor’s Note: Cancer patient outcomes and experiences may vary, even for those with the same type of cancer. An individual patient’s story should not be used as a prediction of how another patient will respond to treatment. Roswell Park is transparent about the survival rates of our patients as compared to national standards, and provides this information, when available, within the cancer type sections of this website.