Saturday, December 17, 2016

A Devastating Diagnosis of Testicular Cancer

Do We Need to Deepen Our Definition of Healthy Choices?

Dear Readers,

It seems as though health and finding balance have been important topics mentioned on social media and in chats over the past 6 months or so. Many of us discuss fitness goals, nutrition, finding "white space" and balancing our professional and personal lives. Although those are important, are we missing a life saving and essential component of being healthy individuals?

I have known people who have been diagnosed with cancer over the years, but there is usually a distance between them and I. It might be a teacher from another building, a student I have never met or a survivor who is in remission. When I was growing up, older family members lived with cancer for years and it never directly impacted me. 

However, my grandfather passed away from cancer and it was heart breaking because it effected his brain and memory. For someone who spent her entire life with him, such as I did, he did not know who I was the last time I saw him. The cancer had robbed him of present memories and brought him back to the past before I was born. It was the first time cancer directly "invaded" my life.

More recently, a family member (not too much older than I am) was diagnosed with cancer. I will honestly say it scared me to death. I had never known someone that young who had been diagnosed, let alone someone who I spent my entire life growing up with. Thankfully, he is in remission and doing well.

It brought awareness to my life like nothing had in the past. I recall asking my OB-GYN if it was hereditary, should I be concerned, etc. She assured me I should not. 

However, she had been bugging me to get a mammogram for a while. I did not feel it was necessary or that I had anything to worry about. Cancer would never touch my life like that. I had heard it was uncomfortable and sometimes painful. My cousin's diagnosis woke me up to the fact that anyone is vulnerable. 

Just as we have to exercise, eat healthy, sleep and find balance, we must do self-exams, go to yearly appointments and speak up when something seems "off". WE know our bodies the best. WE know when something does not feel right. WE need to be proactive and courageous. Not just for ourselves, but for those that love us.

Justin's Courageous Battle

People who choose not to participate in social media, do not understand the bonds and relationships formed. They are often stronger and more real than people I see and talk to in my daily life. 

One particular individual, who I would consider a friend, is Justin. I first met him during a DM Holiday Challenge one year ago. Since then, he has been my tech go-to person. I send out the bat signal and he literally responds within minutes. Anyone that knows me, is aware of my tech troubles. Justin kindly started keeping an imaginary (I hope!) tab of all my required services. Depending on the complexity of the issue, I would be charged more or less. I believe last time we checked, it is somewhere in the trillions. 

Ironically, I was looking for his handle to ask him a question and could not get it to pop up. It was strange. (I actually wondered for a brief second if he had unfollowed me. ME????? Maybe he got tired of being my on-call tech support???????) 

Of course, that was not the situation at all. In fact, I think it was the following day, I saw his blog post about his diagnosis of stage 2 nonseminoma testicular cancer. I never show emotion. I really am a rock. However, this brought me to tears. How could this be? I remember him telling a group of us about his engagement, his job, etc. I can honestly say it was pretty devastating news. 

I am a driver and analytical. My first thought was, what can I do? How can I help? What does he need? How is his fiancee handling things? What about his family? I immediately went into "support" mode and have bothered him every day with a check in on how his health is and what is the movie of the day.

I look at these pictures of his beautiful family and want to make it all disappear. I asked if I could write a blog about his experience and what he wanted included or mentioned. You know what his response was?

"I want to spread awareness. I want people to read about my journey up to and receiving the diagnosis. I want people to talk about testicular cancer with the comfort in which we discuss breast cancer awareness. I want men to do self-exams and go to the doctor."

So, in helping him spread awareness, I hope by reading this it will help save a life. These are Justin's words, quoted from his blog "A Ballsy Sense of Tumor" with his permission.

Testicular Cancer Self-Exam

"I knew the routine for self-checks. 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 testicles 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. I knew the drill."

My Realization that Something Was Wrong

"I had grown rather attached to my testicles over the past 25 years so, as I stood there in the shower, I knew something didn't feel quite right. This wasn't the first time I had felt it either. In mid-September, in a similar showering episode, I had felt what felt to be a pea-sized hard lump. I thought back to my annual checkup (which I had neglected this year) and how the doctor always described lumps as something to take seriously. What I was feeling seemed to fit the bill."

Typical Guy Behavior

"Looking back, my decision to forget about my discovery for awhile could have been because I was just being a typical guy-ignoring a symptom because guys don't go to the doctor."

Dangers of "Appearing" to be Healthy

"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."

Final Thoughts

I am extremely honored that Justin has allowed me to share his story. Choices we make, impact those around us. We have to get comfortable talking about the uncomfortable. It could literally save lives.