I Feared Losing a Testicle More Than I Feared Cancer
"So, I am going to be straight with you. You have testicular cancer."
When I was diagnosed with testicular cancer at age 25, my urologist said those exact words. While this sentence may have come as a shock to some people, I took the news surprisingly well. I wanted answers as to why there was a lump on my testicle, and that was certainly an answer.
With a diagnosis, my first question was simple.
"So what's next?"
Unfortunately, I did not take his next statement as well as his first. His exact words were: "Surgery. We need to remove the testicle immediately. We can probably get you in tomorrow."
Dealing with the thought of losing a testicle
Being told I had cancer didn't phase me one bit. The fact that I would be losing a testicle? That shook me to my core.
I told my doctor I couldn't commit to surgery that quickly. I gave him some excuse about not getting off from work so soon, but really I just didn't want to accept the reality of becoming a uniballer.
He told me to go home and think about it but to call him as soon as I made a decision.
On one hand, surgery was objectively the best option. If I left the cancerous testicle in my body, it would most likely spread and culminate in a fatal outcome. On the other hand, I had grown rather attached to that testicle over the previous 25 years (in both a literal and metaphorical sense).
I was essentially faced with two choices: keep both balls and die, or lose one and live. Choosing the former would have been truly…nuts.
Having a testicle removed
I called the doctor the next day and told him I was going forward with the surgery—an orchiectomy. He told me he actually talked to his wife about me the previous evening, which was something he rarely did (unless a patient was a real jerk). He said he didn't envy the choice I was faced with, but that ultimately I was making the smart decision.
I went to the hospital the following day. Two hours later, I was 50 percent lighter in my scrotum. Though I had gone through with the surgery, I was going to keep my new status to myself because I didn't want people to think I was less of a man.
Something that was a direct physical manifestation of my manhood was removed from me.
Realizing balls don't make the man
Much of my language at the time revolved around the word "balls." If you were putting it all on the line, you were going balls to the wall. If you chickened out of doing something, you had no balls. Literally now, I would have fewer balls than most men.
However, when I told someone who knew I was going through a cancer surgery about my recovery, they asked if I noticed any difference in only having one testicle.
That simply changed things for me. I thought I was slick in referring to it as a cancer surgery instead of a testicle removal. Seems most people know that it is a very common treatment for suspicion of testicular cancer, however.
I could have tried to keep hiding my surgical outcome, but I wouldn't be doing my story and the journey of others justice if I omitted this fact. From there, I decided to bare all, albeit not quite literally.
Destigmatizing the loss of a testicle
I grabbed the situation by the ball(s) and made a pretty public declaration on my blog, A Ballsy Sense of Tumor, about having one testicle. One of my goals with the blog is to destigmatize men's health issues. I know that sharing my story may help others to share theirs and get a conversation going.
From there, conversations did flow. I have since connected with dozens, if not hundreds, of other men who have gone through testicular cancer. Many of them have one testicle, and some even had both removed. These men are law enforcement officers, construction workers, public speakers and more.
Though they may be missing one ball, they are the epitome of what a man should be—a provider and protector for the ones they care about.
That's the core of it right there. A person is not a "man" because they have two testicles. It's about being willing to be open, vulnerable, honest and fiercely protective of those around you.
Chances are that you will meet someone who has faced testicular cancer in your lifetime. Would you see them as less of a man because they are lacking one testicle, or rather as more of a man for what they have faced?
To think about it another way, he sacrificed part of his "manhood" to ensure he would continue to be around to provide for his loved ones.
If I could go back and talk to 25-year-old Justin, I would tell him the surgery would indeed change his life, but not in the way he initially thought. His fears were that he would become less of a man. However, facing cancer and being willing to talk about it to anyone and everyone is truly what made him become the man he is today.
Justin Birckbichler is a men's health advocate, testicular cancer survivor and the founder of aBallsySenseofTumor.com.