A Conversation with Sam Jorgenson: From Testicular Cancer Fighter to Entrepreneur
Posted on June 21 2016
Sam Jorgenson's a fighter. He's a Testicular Cancer survivor, entrepreneur, and a big reason why we feel so passionately about this cause. Read the full interview below.
(This Thursday night we're kicking off our inaugural Feelin' Nuts Run to Benefit the Sean Kimerling Testicular Cancer Foundation. To be clear, for men this is a no pants run. We'll be lettin ‘em breathe and running through Manhattan in only our WOLAs. Obviously gals are also invited and are encouraged to wear whatever they like, though we think the North Moores fit and look pretty damn great on women too.
Bottom line, we’re raising awareness about Testicular Cancer. It's a must for us. Testicular Cancer is the most common form of cancer for guys between 15-40. On top of that, it's one of the most curable cancers when caught in its early stages. When spotted in Stage 1, it has over a 99% survival rate. Found in Stage 3, however, that rate can drop to 50%.
Our take? The best way to make sure guys get diagnosed early is through unabashed awareness efforts. The loudest expression of that belief is our no pants Feelin' Nuts Run—but the reason we do it is because of guys like Sam Jorgenson.
A New Yorker, Jorgenson is an athlete, Testicular Cancer survivor, and entrepreneur. Last week, we met Sam at Soho Strength Lab for a 1-hour sweat with trainer Andy Speer and then grabbed a coffee at one of his favorites spots - Rapha Cycling Club.
Speaking with Sam, we learned of his fight with Testicular Cancer and his personal need to support the awareness of this terrible cancer. Through our conversation, we learned that cancer changed Sam. We'd never want to romanticize something as terrible and devastating as cancer, but it’s clear that Sam's fight changed him fundamentally. Cancer changed his approach to fitness, his professional career, and how he values “everyday” experiences, like having an iced coffee on a sunny day with a couple of guys.
Here’s what Sam had to say.
WC: Sam, hearing about your fight with Stage 3 Testicular Cancer, it’s incredibly moving. For those who don’t know much about Testicular Cancer and your story specifically, can you talk about when you noticed your first symptoms?
SJ: My experience of finding out that I had cancer is different than most. Typically, testicular patients find a lump on their testicle. For me, I woke up on January 15th, 2015 with a swollen lymph node on my collarbone and I immediately FaceTimed my mom for comfort. Her words were: Keep an eye on it, you’ve been stressed with work. And a few trying weeks later, the blood work came back negative for a gamut of things.
I was working out a lot at the time, and in the beginning of February I was in the shower after a workout and I went to spit and I spit up just a ton of blood. Not just runny nose blood but chunks of blood, and I was like: Alright, something’s really messed up with me. A friend of mine connected me with his general doctor. Immediately, the doc wrote me a note to go see Urgent Care at the Ear, Nose, and Throat Clinic on 14th and 2nd. I went over there and a doctor put a scope down my throat, and he’s like We can see blood on your vocal cords, but we don’t know if it’s from above or below. Come in next Monday and we’ll do a CAT scan.
WC: Do you remember how/ when you learned it was cancer?
SJ: I remember sitting in the hospital the following week and the doctor, he’s 32 or 33 and in residency, and his head’s down reviewing my tests and he puts his head up and looks at me and he’s like We’re about 95% sure it’s cancer. And I was just like What the hell? No way. And I don’t know if your world stops, things speed up, you go numb, but something just changes immediately in your mindset. They did a biopsy later that day. And then that following Thursday, February 12th, I went under the knife; they removed the lymph node. A week later, February 18th, they called and they’re like We know for sure that it’s cancer, we just don’t know what form. At first they thought it was Squamous Cell or Lymphoma, cause it was a swollen lymph node. They said they’d know in the next day or two from the biopsies.
WC: How’d they know what stage you were? What’s the prognosis for the different stages?
SJ: When I was diagnosed with Nonseminoma Testicular Cancer, my Oncologist was like—you know it’s funny—he asked me Are you a statistics guy? And you know, I’m kind of an engineer at heart a little bit, so I said yeah. And he says there’s 3 stages in Testicular Cancer: First Stage is in the testicles, you usually have a lump and you’ll start to feel back pain. Being an athlete, I kinda remember Oh yeah, I had a sore lower back, but dude you’re squatting, running, we all have sore lower backs. And then in Stage 2 it travels to the lymph nodes, which are also in the lower back, which is why it’s sore. At Stage 3 it gets into the lungs and metastasizes to the brain. So I was Stage 3, and he’s like Well, there’s stages within stages. You’re stage 3 because we know it’s metastasized to your lungs. In Stage 3, there’s good, which is a 98% cure rate; there’s intermediate, which is 70-75; and then there’s poor, which is 50%. And I’m like Dude, I just got a two-a-day workout in. We squatted, benched. We’re good. And he says, We’re gonna give you 50% chance. And I was just like What the hell? And my parents are bawling. There was a doctor on the other side of the room and she was just shaking her head like How the hell did this happen?
I remember looking at the doctor. He said: Regardless of your stats, let’s just go. Admit me, I said. Let’s go.
WC: What was the scariest part about hearing that?
SJ: I think the scariest part of all of cancer is that initial part. You have no idea what to expect. Like, Am I gonna get more bad news? There’s just uncertainty. Because once you’re actually getting chemo, that part to me was almost easy. I didn’t feel at all like I had cancer the entire time. I didn’t get sick and I still worked out. I just couldn’t eat what I wanted. You lose your hair, that sort of shit. That doesn’t bother me anymore. If I go get a haircut and someone fucks my haircut up, I’m like Dude I was bald with no eyebrows for 84 days.
But the other hardest part for me was definitely the stomach surgery, RPLND surgery. It’s basically open heart surgery on your stomach. They take your guts out, cut out all of the cancerous lymph nodes, put everything back in, and then staple you back up.
WC: Can’t imagine. You said it was 84 days that you were treated, what was the mentality towards treatment like day to day?
SJ: Sloan Kettering is incredible. Sloan, in a very natural way, they break it down day by day. They don’t tell you Hey, two weeks left of this and then you’re gonna have a major open stomach surgery, where you’re gonna be out for like 16 weeks and you won’t be able to do anything but walk. They don’t mention any of that. They focus on each day. Every day of chemo. And it was just like Okay, okay. Let’s get to the next day, next day, next day.
WC: We’d never want to romanticize cancer, but this must have changed you. When you look at who you were pre-cancer to who you’ve become after fighting it and beating it a year later, what’s the biggest difference you see?
SJ: I would say that cancer is one of the best things and worst things that’s happened to me. I think the mental change is the biggest thing. Mentally, I’ve grown a lot. You value every day a little bit more than the last. You thoroughly enjoy an iced coffee and meeting cool people. You don’t get so wrapped up in all the daily shit that you deal with. Now, nothing really bugs me out. I’m just kind of like whatever man. After you battle something like cancer, it’s like when anybody in their life goes through an adversity. Whether you lose a job, a loved one, something that challenges you, you lose your house, it’s more or less about what route do you choose to pick. How do you fight?
I just think my mental game is rock solid now. Nobody can rattle that. I see people getting upset about returning like two tubes of toothpaste at a Walgreens or something, and I’m like You’re getting really worked up about this. I just have a whole different outlook. I met my business partners through this. I started a company in health and fitness. I met guys through the program like Terry and Strauss Zelnick. Things are just drastically different than they were.
I sometimes think about how different life could be if it didn’t happen, where would I be?
WC: How important was the physical part? What role did fitness play during treatment?
SJ: Through the Sloan app I remember messaging my oncologist while being treated and being like, Can I work out? And he was like Yeah, if you feel strong enough. So I couldn’t go to the gym because my immune system was shot; I couldn’t even eat vegetables. Everything I ate was like processed meat sticks and lunchables and crap like that, which I never eat. But I could do workouts on my own. Fitness became a way for me to kind of check myself. If I was able to do a run or do a whole TRX, pull-up, sit-up, push-up workout, it was like going to the doctor everyday.
And that’s kind of how it is now. If I can’t go through a workout, which I never have that feeling but if I couldn’t go through something, I’d be like Alright, something’s weird. I feel like after you go through cancer, you’re hypersensitive to a lot of stuff. Sometimes I’ll think something’s off but then I’m like That’s right, my lungs are gonna be sore because I just went on an 80 mile bike ride or climbed a stage 3 hill, and I did have lung surgery. That’s why.
WC: Who were your best resources and biggest advocates during your fight?
SJ: In terms of strength, it’s your support group. At first you’re kind of your own cheerleader a little bit. Then people rally around you and you rally around them and it grows on itself.
I mentally was like There’s just no way I’m letting this change the way that I live or the things that I do. And Stuart Scott says it best, he says that after cancer you lose a little bit of your innocence. I walk into a room and I just kinda know something that everyone doesn’t. You couldn’t unless you’ve gone through it. Stuart Scott was kind of like that voice of reason, someone that I couldn’t argue with. I would have my mom or someone say like You have to do it this way or this way, and I’d look to Stuart Scott’s experience. I’m not sure if you guys know Stuart Scott, but his book is incredible.
WC: Tell us about your company.
SJ: The company’s called Rove. We’re creating the first of it’s kind portable foam roller that fits in a laptop sleeve, right into a backpack, or duffle bag. It’s the same size as your standard foam roller: 6 inches in diameter, 12 inches long. We are striving to make it the best roller on the market, created for all.
WC: Who’d you start the company with?
SJ: I met my business partners through this crazy last year of 2015. Through The Program, every once in a while we’ll do a non-workout thing where we learn about nutrition and taking care of our bodies because we do beat the hell out of them. I had surgery on June 18th and was having awful leg pain. I was living down in TriBeCa and I did not feel like going up to 41st and Park for a Program event in late July. I decided to go and I met Daniel Giordano and Philippos Kyriacou from BeSpoke treatments.
Daniel worked on me every day for the next two weeks. He got me back to pain free. And then it came to a point where they’re like Dude, you need to start foam rolling, it will wake up your lymphatic system in a very natural way. It helps with inflammation too. They had removed 70 lymph nodes from my stomach in the surgery and I was traveling and seeing friends in Miami, Chicago, LA and all over that summer. I have foam rollers all over the country now because I couldn’t really travel with them.
WC: When did the idea come to you?
SJ: I was sitting by the pool last summer with a buddy and I was like I think I figured out a way to make this thing portable.
I went in for treatment later that day and I was like Daniel, I think I figured out a way to do this. I remember telling him about it and he’s like Phillipos, come in here. He comes in and I draw it out. We still have the sketches. We raised some money and now a year later, pre-orders start this month.
We’re launching the product in September/October timeframe, just in time for fall marathon season.
I want to work for myself, and with my friends that have the same vision as I do. The way I look at it, I’d rather be happy and enjoy every moment, versus being unhappy, working 20 hours a day in finance like some of my buddies.
WC: One piece of advice you’d give to someone who’s been recently diagnosed or in the fight with cancer?
SJ: You’re stronger than you think you are! It’s the same mentality when you’re working out. You know, someone’s like One more rep. Then more one. One more rep, then one more. One more rep. Before you know it, you’ve got 8 reps in and you rack it. You can barely walk, but you’ve just shocked yourself. Again. Cancer is very different from anything I've ever experienced. To me, it's way more mental than it is physical and you survive cancer mentally, before you do physically.
WC: This last one might be an obvious one, but we’d like to hear your answer. What would you say to someone who thinks they could be having early symptoms of Testicular Cancer?
SJ: If you feel something’s off - go get it checked! There are so many different treatments now, and medical advancements have been made with flagging early signs of Testicular Cancer.
I think the other question is Where do I go? If you’re not from New York, it’s like Where do I go to see a doctor. I had no clue. If I didn’t have that friend, I don’t know where I would have went.
Be sure to follow Sam Jorgenson and Rove on Instagram this summer. Or you could just give him a high-five in person on Thursday night. He’ll be there, kicking ass and loving every minute.
Want a proper education on Testicular Cancer? Visit the Sean Kimerling Testicular Cancer Foundation.