Less than a year ago, Josh Orenstein was living the life that is familiar to so many of us in our 30s. He worked hard as an attorney downtown, commuted on a CTA bus, frequented a bar now and again with buddies, dined out with a great girlfriend, hit the gym a few times a week, and uploaded a picture or two to Facebook.
And nothing has changed, because Josh was fortunate enough to catch cancer before it had spread and before he needed chemo therapy.
A former college athlete whose only health concern was a bad back from running track at Georgetown University, Josh noticed something was different last spring. After a couple of weeks, he became a bit more concerned than perhaps a typical 33-year-old because a close friend from high school had been diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2005.
Josh went to the doctor who told him it was probably nothing, but recommended an ultrasound to be on the safe side. Josh received the bad news at a happy hour that was later confirmed by his urologist.
Josh had testicular cancer.
“It’s one of those moments where you realize your number is up,” Josh said.
A few days later, Josh underwent successful outpatient surgery. He was walking the same night and only took three days off work. Worse than the surgery, he said, was watching and waiting to see if the cancer would come back or what kind of treatment regimen he would need.
During that time he was surrounded by his parents and his girlfriend, Madeline Choe.
“Madeline was with me through surgery,” Josh said. “She was incredible. My family has been crucial. They were extraordinary.”
Josh has also turned to God and Judaism as a source of comfort.
“I am not a terribly observant person,” he said. “I observe certain things, but I don’t observe others. There were moments of real fear. There were times when if I could have run away from it I would have. There were moments of terror. I was definitely praying. Whether I know there is a God or not, if there is I wanted His help. The next few visits to synagogue were meaningful to me. If God means anything to you, it means more in those moments for sure.”
Josh has an excellent prognosis. Although there is a 30 percent chance the cancer could return during a two year period, the survival rate is over 95 percent. This is a drastic shift from the 1970s when 80 to 90 percent of testicular cancer patients did not survive.
The increased survival rate is due to a chemotherapy regimen—the same treatment that allowed Lance Armstrong to win the Tour De France after his testicular cancer had metastasized. But Josh warns men not to mess around with their health.
“We’re not kids anymore,” Josh said. “We’re not too young for this stuff and it actually really does matter when you catch things and when you find them. It’s going to spread if you get it. “Josh promised himself that if he didn’t need chemotherapy he would do something to take up the time and energy he wouldn’t have had if he was going through treatments.
Once he received the good news, he was determined to fulfill his promise. Because of his bad back, he couldn’t raise money by running a marathon or doing a 200 mile bike ride, so he decided to do something more unique to give back.
He chose the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society because of their fundraising prowess and the high percentage of dollars raised that goes to research and patient care.
With support from LLS’ Kayla Kovarna, Madeline and his friends Nathan Lundby and Joel Bush, he started 10-to-End-Cancer. The goal is to raise $20,000 by hosting events while Josh completes 10 challenges, including participating in The Polar Plunge, reading the 1,386 pages of War and Peace, taking a trapeze class, sweating through 105 degree Bikram Yoga, getting volunteers to swab for bone marrow compatibility, studying tap dancing, human figure (naked) sketching and skeet shooting.
Nathan said being involved with the fundraising has been inspiring.
“I’ve been impressed by people who don’t know Josh and really want to do things to help out,” Nathan said. “A lot of people are very generous and very supportive.”
Nathan has been most inspired by Josh.
“He’s been like a champ the whole way,” Nathan said. “He’s been a fighter with the cancer and it carries on into the fundraising. Once he got relief from his own situation, he put his time and energy into this. That’s impressive.”
Josh’s 9th, and most recent challenge is driving Cubs fans in a Chicago Rickshaw. The-10-to-End-Cancer Challenge has raised an impressive $16,000 in nine weeks. Josh wants your help in determining his last challenge.
In the comments section below, make your suggestion for his final challenge – the more outrageous and funny, the better. If he uses your challenge, he’ll mail you a 10-to-End-Cancer t-shirt.