April is Testicular Cancer Awareness Month, a cause that is very close to my heart—or more accurately—my groin. In an effort to spread awareness, I’ll be sharing the story of my testicular cancer diagnosis in a four-part series here on my weekly column. It’s the saga you never knew you needed to hear. The journey began with Part I: Lefty’s Rebellion, continued with Part II: Many Hands Make Light Work, which led to Part III: One Ball, Many Questions.
In the final installment of my tale from two testicles to a full-fledged Uniballer, we’ll explore how losing Lefty was just the beginning of my mission.
After my surgeon wrapped up my surgery, I was wheeled into the recovery room for observation before discharge. Still coming out of anesthesia, I remember thinking to myself that Dr. D could be moonlighting as one of the world’s greatest cat burglars. After all, he had just stolen half of my family jewels—without disturbing a moment of my sleep.
While losing a testicle seems like something that would require an extended stay in a hospital, the entire process, from entrance to exit, was about five hours. Upon departure, I was given strict instructions to stay in bed for at least 48 hours, followed by minimal activity for the following week.
Lying in bed for that long is not nearly as fun as it sounds. I can think of far better ways to spend two days in bed, but I wasn’t quite up to that challenge, especially considering the circumstances. To quell the boredom, I began to write a Google Doc of my experience from discovering the lump to where I lay that day.
I wanted a record of everything while it was fresh in my mind, and it was also a good way to process what had happened. From detecting a lump in my sack to becoming a lump in my bed, only about twenty days had transpired.
A few days later, I had follow-up imaging to see if the cancer had spread beyond my testicle. Spoiler alert: It had spread to a number of my lymph nodes. Though Lefty was no longer in the land of the living, his vengeance lived on. I would require weeks of intensive chemotherapy to fully eradicate his remains. What a vengeful bastard.
Being a good millennial, I visited Dr. Google to see what to expect in testicular cancer chemotherapy. However, what I found was a lot of clinical information and basically nothing from the patient perspective.
Meanwhile, I kept writing in my Google Doc. Eventually, I shared it with a close friend. She enjoyed reading it and encouraged me to continue writing. When I whined about my frustrations about the lack of relatable information to guide me through my impending chemo, she challenged me to become the resource that I yearned for.
After thinking it over, I decided to grab this opportunity by the ball(s) and go for it. To begin, I crafted what I still believe to be the best title for a testicular cancer-focused blog, A Ballsy Sense of Tumor. Even though I committed to putting my journey out there, I wasn’t sure how I wanted to handle telling the world that I had one less, one less testicle (to paraphrase Ariana Grande). I mean, it’s not exactly easy to announce to the world that you’re now one pilot short of a full cockpit.
However, I had some time to make that decision. I had chosen to split the blog into a dual narrative: a retrospective look from finding the lump to beginning my treatment and a present-day exploration of going through chemotherapy. With this approach of posting one installment for each storyline per week (beginning in late November 2016), my story wouldn’t reach the part about surgery until January.
As I drafted the posts, I referred to having a mass removed versus the entire testicle. However, if it hasn’t become evident by now, I decided to pull a Full Monty and share it all. This decision was made literally hours before publishing and for one very important reason: Men do not openly discuss their health out of some preconceived notion of having to be “strong,” almost to a criminal degree.
By hiding such a vital part of my story, I was adding to this damaging narrative. It’s not just my own thoughts on the matter. While we have a ton of data to back up that men die earlier than their female counterparts, due in part to not addressing health issues, it’s something men refuse to improve upon. Around the time of my diagnosis, the Cleveland Clinic began their annual MENtion It campaign and found the following:
- 53 percent of men don’t talk about health
- 40 percent don’t attend their yearly physical
- 61 percent wait until a symptom becomes unbearable
- Only 42 percent go when seriously concerned
- 12 percent see a doctor as their first step when facing a health issue
Improving those dismal figures is what drives me to continue writing about my own journey and encouraging men to talk about their health regularly. While a self-exam of my testicles is essentially what saved my life, the vast majority of men either don’t know how to do them or have never been told to do them. It’s a simple task that could ultimately save your (or a loved one’s) life. Since I can never say it too much, here’s another set of directions:
Best done during or after a shower when the scrotum is relaxed, 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.
That process should be repeated monthly and should only take about two minutes (or one minute now in my case).
Since finding my own lump in October 2016, I have literally written hundreds of articles and spoken to thousands of people about this highly curable disease and other men’s health matters. I’m now in remission with a strong prognosis of never having to face cancer again, but I still talk about men’s health incessantly. I’m lucky to be here today and I plan to spread awareness until I am blue in the face, which is much better than being blue in the … nevermind.
As we close out this final entry of “Rise of the Uniballer,” I urge all men to talk about their health with their friends and loved ones. It doesn’t have to be a serious lecture, or worse, a scolding. In fact, I recommend against it. We’ve been chided by our parents and significant others and probably more than we want to admit. However, by using humor and a friendly tone, it’s more apt to be a real conversation and stick with an individual.
And if at the end of the day, a guy gets a little bothered that I’m so persistent about gabbing about gonads, I’m OK with that.
It’s better for him to be a little testy than for him to neglect his testes.
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