By Contributing Writer - November 12, 2018
As he crossed the finish line of the New York City Marathon Jon Henrichsen couldn’t believe that he was able to run all 26.2 miles. As an avid athlete, Henrichsen always imagined he’d be running Ironman races well into his 80s. He never thought that doing a simple bridge pose in yoga class would put that dream on pause and change his life forever.
In late 2015, Henrichsen began losing weight. He felt fatigued, anxious and suffered from night sweats. This was unusual for him as he looked like the picture of perfect health. He went to the doctor who gave him an anti-anxiety prescription and told him he was otherwise fine. As the anxiety and fatigue got worse, his physician increased the dosage of the anti-anxiety medication but kept saying there wasn’t anything physically wrong with him.
Eventually, the fatigue and anxiety got so bad, Henrichsen left his career. He took some time off before accepting a position he thought would be more manageable but after a few weeks, that too became overwhelming. He didn’t know what was wrong. This went on for about five months until a physical therapist saw him in a bridge yoga pose and asked him if he ever had a CT scan because something looked off.
Henrichsen went back to his doctor and asked for the scan. At first, the request was denied because the physician didn’t feel it was necessary, but Henrichsen insisted and was reluctantly approved for the CT scan. Shortly after having the scan, he received a phone call asking him to come back to the doctor’s office. Henrichsen thought it would be a quick meeting to tell him he had a herniated disc or something. He was wrong. The doctor sat him down and told him that there was a very large tumor throughout his back, abdomen and rib cage. They said he needed to pack a bag immediately and head over to a community hospital where they had a room ready for him.
In a state of shock, Henrichsen called his wife, his financial adviser and a friend who recommended he go to Moffitt Cancer Center. That’s where the doctor’s diagnosed him with stage 3A testicular cancer that spread to his abdomen, possibly spine, and displacing multiple organs. He underwent surgery to remove the original tumor from his testicle the day after his second wedding anniversary.
The second tumor was much larger and wrapped around the aortic valve in his heart making it challenging to surgically remove. To shrink or eliminate that tumor, doctors recommended chemotherapy, but shortly after beginning treatment, he suffered from deep vein thrombosis, which is when blood clots form in deep veins, and required emergency surgery. He spent five days in intensive care.
Doctors changed his chemotherapy and added another round. His immune system was extremely weak and he underwent several blood transfusions before he started feeling a little better. Though the tumor shrank, Henrichsen suffered complications such as chronic kidney disease, chronic fatigue, cognitive challenges and neuropathy in his fingers and feet.
Several months after ending chemotherapy he began doing gentle yoga. He also tried to go for a run, but he couldn’t even log a mile without stopping. He says, “I felt like a shell of my old self. It’s hard being an athlete my whole life and to have my outlet taken away.”
Henrichsen wanted to be active again and took part in an outdoor adventure trip for cancer patients hosted by First Descents. He enjoyed the experience and wanted to give back. One option for the organization was by running in the New York City Marathon. He always wanted to run in the New York City Marathon and he began training slowly. Friends periodically joined for runs, his wife would get up with him before dawn and ride her bike alongside with water and snacks. Cancer once again threw a wrench in his plan when doctors discovered spots on his lungs over the summer. He was scared the tumor spread again and he wouldn’t be able to run in the marathon, but he kept training and was given permission to do the race. “If I didn’t do it now, I may never do it,” Henrichsen said.
Henrichsen completed the marathon in about 4 ½ hours and raised more than $4,000.
He still gets together once a year with the physical therapist who suggested he get a CT scan after seeing him do a bridge pose. While he can’t say for sure what would have happened had he not done that pose at that moment, Henrichsen believes the bridge pose may have saved his life and he encourages everyone to be their own health advocate.