How Having Testicular Cancer Gave Me a New Life’s Mission

Prior to my testicular cancer diagnosis in October 2016, I didn’t make health a priority as I branched out in the world in my early twenties. To be perfectly honest, I felt 100% healthy and fine. In August I had completed a Spartan Sprint, and was jogging in the mornings before school. I had no fatigue, headaches, swelling, fever, or anything that indicated I was sick. I had a very uneventful medical history, so I didn’t put too much time and effort into going to the doctor regularly. 


However, the one bit of advice I heeded from my doctor was to do monthly testicular self-exams. They’re best done after a shower, when the scrotum is relaxed, and they’re pretty easy: just place your index and middle fingers under the testicle with your thumb on top. Firmly but gently, roll the testicle between your fingers. Any weird lumps or bumps should be checked out by a doctor ASAP. When you get out of the shower, be sure to look for signs of changes in shape, color, or swelling. 


Back then, I was in the minority of men who perform regular self-exams. According the Testicular Cancer Society, only about 42% of surveyed men knowhow to perform one. Early that October, I found a lump while doing a routine self-exam in the shower. A few days after I found the lump on Lefty I called a doctor, which started me on the path that would prove to reshape my life. My primary care doctor, urologist, and oncologist all stressed how important calling early and not putting it off was in a successful course of treatment. 


By late October, an ultrasound result caused my doctor to suspect cancer (this would be confirmed after surgery). The testicle was removed at the end of the month, but a CT in early November revealed that the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes (officially my diagnosis/staging was Stage IIB nonseminoma testicular cancer), so I needed BEP chemo. I started 21 treatments (5 days in a row, 2 days off, 1 day on, six days off, 1 day on, rinse repeat for three cycles) in late November and concluded at the end of January 2017. A scan in March 2017 showed that I was in remission, and I remain in remission as of December 2018. 


However, what’s most important to me isn’t just focusing on my own story - it’s about sharing it to everyone I meet in hopes of preventing another guy from having to face the same thing I did.  


Nowadays I write and am an advocate for men’s health through my blog, A Ballsy Sense of Tumor. One of my goals is for ABSOT to help others who have been diagnosed with testicular cancer to find the resource I wish I had when I first started treatment. I couldn’t find a patient-friendly resource that detailed the entire journey (from discovery to the struggles of survivorship) and was written from a twenty-something’s perspective. I’m hoping to fill that void and am happy when I hear that others have found it helpful.


While that’s one of the missions of ABSOT, the main goal is to open up lines of dialogue about testicular cancer and men’s health in general. Testicular cancer is not talked about enough in society. My hopes are that sharing my story from beginning to end with an open attitude will stimulate more open discussion and bring a larger focus to men’s health in general. Knowing someone who is going through cancer can help make it more real to men who might not otherwise be concerned about their own health. I put my face where their balls are (which is a somewhat awkward turn of phrase).


I’m a teacher by trade, and I had the opportunity to develop a health education video, entitled Testicular Cancer 101, for distribution throughout the state of Virginia and subsequently the nation as a whole. Perhaps the most exciting part of this project to me is that the filming, editing, and production was done in conjunction with high school students, who are a part of the age range most at risk for testicular cancer. 


A large part of how I approach life is through humor. With my cancer experience, it’s no different. I talk about it as positively and with as much humor as you can use when discussing cancer. While cancer is no laughing matter, my method is to approach it with humor, awareness, and positivity. Keeping an upbeat demeanor was very important in my approach because I was feeling physically like crap, but I needed to stay internally positive. My main nurse, Jenn, even noted it in a card she gave me at the end of chemo: “You were handed a tough regimen but you were always positive and even when vomiting you were laughing and making a joke.” 


Testicular cancer, and the associated terms such as balls, sack, nuts, and more, lend themselves nicely to puns and humor. It’d be a crime to not utilize them. Humor is a natural connector for people. In the words of Mary Poppins, it helps the medicine go down. Keeping it positive and light, while underscoring the seriousness, make conversation easier to swallow and more apt to be an actual conversation instead of a lecture. In summary, it’s sometimes hard to have such a stiff conversation, and it’s certainly not always a ball, but you would be a nut to not sack it up and do it. 


Don’t get teste about it.


Photo credit of the author.