A Ballsy Sense of Tumor

Prior to my diagnosis, I didn’t make health a priority. I had really no major health events, and perhaps my uneventful history caused me to be less worried when I first felt a lump. Because there was no “pain” associated with the lump (like many testicular cancer survivors mention), I thought it was nothing. To be perfectly honest, I felt 100% healthy and fine. Just a few weeks ago, 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.

However, I was in the minority of men who perform regular self-checks, which should be done monthly. I found a lump while doing a routine self-exam in the shower in early October 2016. After I found my lump, I called a doctor a few days later, which began me on the path that I elaborate on in the following question. My GP, 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.

I write and am an advocate for men’s health through my blog, A Ballsy Sense of Tumor. One of my goals is to help others who have been diagnosed with testicular cancer to find the resource I wish I had when I first started. 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 others have found it helpful.

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).

Men being resistant and guarded about about talking their health is a driving force behind why share my story. Society has such skewed visions of men talking about their health — we’re supposed to be seen as strong and able to heal ourselves. According to a 2016 study by the Cleveland Clinic, only three in five men actually go to their annual physical, and just over 40 percent go to the doctor only when they have a serious medical condition. 53% of all the men surveyed reported that their health just isn’t something they talk about, and 19 percent admitted they will only go to the doctor to stop nagging from their significant other, a point I can usually understand.

Testicular cancer, and the associated terms such as balls, sack, nuts, etc etc, lend themselves nicely to puns and humor. It’d be a crime to not utilize it. 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.

On a serious note, men need to start by talking openly about their health. I want to live in a world where we can freely talk about testicular self-exams. I want conversation to be open about all health issues, but I’m especially passionate about men’s health. Not talking about it can be a potentially life-threatening mistake. Keeping each other accountable for performing regular self-checks is also critical. Without honest conversations, this accountability is impossible.

I want to be a catalyst to start talking about testicles in everyday conversation. I want men thinking of me and checking themselves (hopefully not at the same time, but whatever works).

Carpe Scrotiem! Don’t be afraid to check yourself and talk about your ‘boys’ with your boys!

-Justin, testicular cancer survivor

A Ballsy Sense of Tumor was originally published in Livestrong Voices on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.