Thriving after a Cancer Journey
- Reality stars Tarek El Moussa, a testicular and thyroid cancer survivor, and his wife Heather Rae El Moussa are currently expecting their first child together despite previous fertility struggles.
- And while life is looking great for the couple, they still have to deal with negative things from time to time. Most recently, Heather Rae gave one Twitter user a piece of her mind after the user said she had adopted Tarek as her entire personality.
- Spotting thyroid cancer can often be difficult. Symptoms may include a lump, swelling or pain in the neck, voice changes, trouble swallowing or breathing or even a constant cough.
- Self examinations are incredibly important when it comes to screening for testicular cancer. Men aged 15 to 55 should perform a monthly self-examination to find any changes in the testes that might indicate cancer at an early stage.
- Testicular cancer survivors may come across issues with fertility after overcoming the disease, but this is not always the case. Either way, you should discuss possible side effects and fertility preservation options with your doctor before starting treatment.
- A cancer diagnosis can change your life. But as we’ve seen in the case of Tarek, you can thrive on the other side of your cancer journey.
Tarek rose to fame when he co-starred in the HGTV hit Flip or Flop with his ex-wife Christina Haack, 38. Together they co-parent their two children – Taylor, 11, and Brayden, 6 – but he is now happily married to Selling Sunset star Heather Rae El Moussa.Read More
With the all the excitement, it’s likely that Tarek and Heather Rae are over-the-moon about the things to come. Still, the couple has had to deal with people trying to bring them down. In a recent Tweet, one Twitter user wrote a comment that Heather Rae felt warranted a response.
No girl, It’s called true love. That most people never get to experience. Lucky enough I found one of the most incredible men out there.
— Heather Rae El Moussa (@HeatherRaeYoung) August 25, 2022
“Heather Rae Young really made her husband her entire personality,” the user wrote.
But Heather was quick to retort with a simple declaration of her love.
“No girl, It’s called true love,” she wrote in reply. “That most people never get to experience. Lucky enough I found one of the most incredible men out there.”
Even though it’s sad Heather had to deal with such an unnecessary and unkind Tweet, it’s nice to know she won’t let the haters get her down. After all, the mom-to-be has a whole lot to be grateful for in this life she’s created with her cancer-fighting husband.
Tarek El Moussa’s Cancer Journey
Tarek was diagnosed with thyroid and testicular cancer in 2013 calling it “the scariest year of [his] life!” The same year, he co-starred in the newly debuted HGTV show Flip or Flop with then-wife Haack – the show has since aired its last episode in 2022.
Interestingly enough, it was actually his time on Flip or Flop that led to his thyroid cancer diagnosis when a viewer noticed a lump on Tarek’s throat. Being a nurse, the viewer was determined to contact the network and share her concerns for his health.
Spotting thyroid cancer can often be difficult. The American Cancer Society reports that symptoms may include a lump, swelling or pain in the neck, voice changes, trouble swallowing or breathing or even a constant cough.
“Most people have no discrete symptoms — the majority of cases now are found incidentally,” Dr. Allen Ho, a head and neck surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Hospital, tells SurvivorNet. “However, a sizable number of people may first discover their cancer when they feel a bump on their neck. Other possible late symptoms include problems swallowing, the sensation of something in their throat, neck compression when laying flat or voice changes.”
Following his diagnosis, Tarek and his then-wife “looked through all [his] old medical records for any other irregularities.” They found an irregular testicular exam from two years prior, so just two months after his thyroid cancer diagnosis he decided to look into it.
“I was at one building doing my thyroid stuff and mentioned I was going across the street to get an ultrasound done,” Tarek told PEOPLE in 2017 of the day of the testing. “I’ll never forget the doctor joking, ‘I hope you don’t have cancer!’”
He found out he had testicular cancer later that day.
“I get over to the ultrasound and [the technician and I] are talking and having fun and all of a sudden he got really quiet,” Tarek said. “I said, ‘What’s up?’ I could tell he was nervous and he was like ‘Oh, I’m not a doctor.’ I said, ‘What do you mean?’ And he said, ‘Are you in pain? I think you’re in pain and should go to the emergency room.’
“Right then, I knew something was wrong. A half hour later they tell me I have cancer and try to sign me up for surgery. That was devastating.”
A testicular cancer diagnosis is rare. It is the most common form of cancer diagnosed in young men, but it can occur at any age. Symptoms of testicular cancer can be subtle, and some people may even confuse the early symptoms such as a small mass in their testicle as an injury. But when these signs are dismissed, the cancer can grow and become worse.
“It’s not uncommon to see men come in with masses on their scrotum and have inflammation of the scrotal wall; they develop pain as a result. A lump is the most common symptom of testicular cancer,” Dr. Edwin Posadas, the medical director of the Urologic Oncology Program at Cedars-Sinai Cancer, previously told SurvivorNet.
In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, Dr. Bradley McGregor, clinical director of the Lank Center for Genitourinary Oncology at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, emphasized the importance of self-examinations.
“It is recommended that men aged 15 to 55 perform a monthly self-examination to find any changes to help find the cancer at an early stage,” Dr. McGregor said. And if someone spots any of the early symptoms, “he should visit his doctor immediately.” It’s important to be aware of your body and get in touch with a doctor if you notice anything unusual.
Depending on the stage, the disease is considered extremely treatable. Treatment options can include chemotherapy and radiation, but often the first line of treatment is surgery to remove the testicle which contains the cancerous cells.
Tarek El Moussa Beats Both Diseases
Thankfully, Tarek would later beat both testicular and thyroid cancer. In an Instagram post from 2019, he shared his excitement for being cancer-free with Flip or Flop fans.
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“Today I got the best news ever…I’m cancer free and I’m healthier than ever!!!!” he wrote in his caption. “This makes me so happy not for me but for my babies ❤️. I have to be healthy and alive for them!! (I’m tearing up writing this😭😭😭)
“They are my everything and they need their daddy! This news is so good because I’m alive to be here for THEM!!”
Since overcoming both battles, he’s been open about his cancer journey to increase awareness for the two cancers.
“A lot of people said they got tested because I shared my [thyroid cancer] story,” he said.
He’s even encouraged men to perform self-checks for testicular cancer.
“[Movember’s website will] teach you how to do a self-check,” Tarek said in another interview. “It’s really important because there are people out there today that are gonna get testicular cancer, like it’s gonna happen. And if they find it sooner, the odds of survival are just so much greater.”
Additionally, Tarek and his wife have been open about their struggles with fertility following Tarek’s cancer battles.
“Having testicular cancer, he had to be on testosterone,” Heather said during an interview on the television show The Doctors. “So I had found out from Dr. A and I was actually shocked that I had not known this before — being a young couple that maybe would wanna have children — that the testosterone he was taking could have been blocking his sperm.”
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But despite being in the middle of in vitro fertilization (IVF) treatments and even having a scheduled date to transfer an embryo next fall, the couple found out Heather was naturally pregnant earlier this summer.
“It was a huge shock,” Heather told PEOPLE in July. “We just weren’t expecting this. We had just gone through IVF. We had embryos on ice. We had a plan.
“I think when you least expect it and there’s no stress in your life, the world just brought us what was meant to be. I’m so excited that it happened like this.”
Thriving as a Survivor
A cancer diagnosis can change your life. But as we’ve seen in the case of Tarek, you can thrive on the other side of treatment. And even though him and his wife have unfortunate things to deal with – like online critics – the important thing is that they’re in love and happily getting ready for the birth of their first child together.
And we’ve seen other cancer survivors thrive time and time again. Take Marecya Burton, for example. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at just 20 years old. Burton was a college student-athlete looking forward to graduation at the time, but all that had to change when she was forced to move home to start treatment.
“That was definitely challenging for me,” Burton said in a previous interview with SurvivorNet. “I was looking forward to graduating.”
She also had planned on pursuing a law degree after graduation – another dream she had to give up.
“I really had to, in a sense, put my life on hold,” she said. “Sometimes I look at where I am, and I can’t help but wonder, would I be further had I not had my diagnosis?”
But instead of law school, Burton found a new passion: teaching. She became a high school teacher in Baltimore, Maryland, and she’s since made peace with her new direction in life.
“I wouldn’t change my career for the world,” she says. “It’s so fulfilling.”