Lost: One Testicle

Instead of looking for sympathy, Joe Weinberg had an unlikely reaction: He wished the cancer had been worse. 

I lost a testicle this summer. Which is not to say I misplaced it; I had it surgically removed. There was a tumor on it. I had it removed, and a week later found out for sure that it was, in fact, cancer.

I made jokes about it (That’s what I do when I don’t want to admit I’m scared). I talked about how I kicked cancer’s ass, how I got rid of cancer faster than the Israelis got rid of the Arab nations in the Six Day War. I put on a brave front; even my Facebook posts were positive. Anyone who tried to help me got told that I was just fine, that I was coping. I wouldn’t even accept much in the way of sympathy from my own wife. I just kept my freaking out to myself, denied most of my feelings, and poked at my scar as if I had no idea why I was doing it.

Why is that? Why did I feel like I couldn’t get sympathy? Like I shouldn’t get sympathy? I’m not sure, but I have a sneaking suspicion it’s because of some ridiculous notion that, as a man, I shouldn’t need it. That, as a man, I should be stronger.

It’s insane, really. Somehow, society has brainwashed me so hard that I convinced myself that cancer wasn’t a big deal, like I shouldn’t be making a big deal out of the whole situation.

But the thing is, cancer is a big deal. It’s a huge deal. Even when it’s small, even when it’s taken care of quickly. It’s cancer. The big C word. And that, my friends, is huge. It’s Earth shattering. Life altering. At least, it’s supposed to be.

Where does this come from? This image of ‘man’ that demands stoicism to a level that cannot be healthy, this ingrained belief that as men, we don’t need sympathy? It gets pretty ridiculous, and the side effects can be pretty nasty.


The whole situation really messed with my head. I found myself feeling bad that my cancer was taken care of so easily. Let me say that again: I wished the cancer had been worse. I wished that I had gone through those big moments, that re-evaluating of life, the restructuring what is important to you, all that stuff. I wished that I had been forced to consider my mortality a bit more. And why? Why would I wish for something that stupid? Because then, then, I would actually deserve some sympathy. That maybe, if it were bad, it pass beyond sympathy and I would deserve just the touch of my fellow man, that I would pass into the realm where it was just simple humanity, where my suffering would evoke that kind of empathy

If things were really bad, then I would be excused from manliness. If such a thing is possible.

I have no idea why this was such a big deal for me. I’m not the alpha male type. I don’t support traditional gender roles, I cry at sad movies, and I know less about sports than, well, anyone. I’ve never considered myself to be macho or manly. So why, with this, did it matter so much?

Part of it, I think, is about what I lost. I had two testicles. I have one now. I am, in the words of Stone Temple Pilots, half the man I used to be.

But really, what I need to understand is that I’m not any different than I used to be. There’s no issue of sterility; I had a vasectomy three years ago. It’s not my first surgery. There are some minor hormonal problems, but it’s all balancing itself out. The only difference between me now and me a month ago, (aside from one more scar and one fewer testicle) is that now, I’m a cancer survivor.

And that’s a big deal too. Even though I don’t feel like I did anything. Imagine a passenger on an airplane who falls asleep. While napping, the plane crashed. The passenger doesn’t wake up until a bit later, after everything was sorted out. So a plane crash survivor, only not really. That’s what I feel like. So why should I feel traumatized?

There it is again. The male stoicism demanding that I show how tough I am by not feeling my feelings. Think of this: when I described the person on the airplane, did you imagine a male passenger or a female one? In my head, it was a he, and I don’t think that’s just because I am.

But does he have a right to feel traumatized? Is he entitled to sympathy? Hell yes, he is. He came just as close to death as everyone else on the plane. The fact that he managed to skip out on a few seconds of anxiety, but that’s all. He was still inside a huge piece of metal and jet fuel that may have exploded; the fact that it didn’t is why he’s a survivor.

So I’m a cancer survivor. I survived it, even if it happened so fast that I didn’t have the anxiety of feeling the plane go rushing down towards the ground. I deserve the sympathy, no matter what stupid cultural definitions of ‘manliness’ might say.

photo by Rob Young / Flickr

About Joe Weinberg

Joe Weinberg is a PhD candidate at the University of Minnesota. He's as nerdy and geeky as can be, and is very proud of that fact.


  1. When you said ‘worse’ I initially assumed ‘both testicles’.

  2. The Bad Man says:

    You do deserve sympathy and you should accept it gracefully rather than putting up an aura of strength and diminishing your own experiences. It’s not a joke when a man feels pain.

  3. Jose Vizcarra says:

    Wait till you are stricken with a neuropsychological illness, like chronic depression, then you will not be deemed worthy of any compassion, pity maybe. If a man with cancer can’t get a break, a man with depression gets even less, people assume it’s not a real illness and you are just a wimp or making it all up. Worry ye not. You have done well, my friend.

    • Joe Weinberg says:

      Funny you should mention that. Depression, that is. I also suffer from that. It may be worthwhile to write about that too.
      Thanks for your comment

  4. Paul Bennett says:

    It’s a shame the first comment was so hateful when Mr. Weinberg was being so honest about his thoughts and feelings. So many women claim they want men to be “emotionally available,” but then he writes something like this and gets told to “man up” by a woman who has a site dedicated to her menopause.

    Ms. Forrest, how would you feel if someone told YOU to “woman up” about going through menopause? Oh, yeah, nobody uses that term, yet you feel justified in telling Mr. Weinberg to “man up” because he writes an open, honest, heartfelt essay about his REAL feeling about cancer. Is it any wonder that so many men keep their feelings to themselves? It’s not machismo; it’s fear of ridicule from the likes of you.

    Thanks for sharing your experience and feelings, Mr. Weinberg.

  5. Thank you for sharing your insights and feelings about your experience. There are a lot of people out there who will tell you what you are supposed to feel about things, whether you are a man or a woman. There seems to be an idea that if anyone has it worse than you, you have no right to express your feelings. Barbara Ehrenreich, who is female and whose cancer, I think, was more serious than yours wrote a whole book (Bright Sided) on what she felt was an unhealthy cultural requirement that she remain cheerful and positive during her treatment. So if things were really bad you probably wouldn’t be “excused from manliness” either. Our requirement that a man show only optimism and no fear is stronger. The first poster proved your point with the “man up” comment. Women had a platform on Oprah to talk about their fears, insecurities and so on, without having to “woman up.” I don’t know you and even if I did, I am not in your shoes and cannot judge what would be the “appropriate” emotional reaction. There are a lot of people who had it worse than you, but I don’t buy the argument that you are only entitled to ask for sympathy, express fear, being overwhelmed or anything else if you have it worse than other people. That assumes that there is a finite amount of compassion around to be given only to the worst cases. Unless you’re actually on your deathbed, you can pretty much always point to someone who has it worse, who would be a better candidate than you. That person deserves a lot of compassion, care and sympathy. That doesn’t mean you do not. So I agree with the first poster on one thing– don’t wish for something worse. You don’t need to be the worst case scenario to be deserving of compassion or allowed to express your needs.

  6. Well, will you feel better if the cancer comes back? Like more of a man if this time they have to radiate and pump toxic chemicals into you? Perhaps next time stricken with a more virolent strain and puking your guts out you will feel more manly.

    I suggest you “man up” and feel freaking grateful.

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