Last month, we talked about how men can check their balls for signs of cancer. This week, we hear from a man who in 2016 did just that – and had his worst fears realised. Here’s what Justin Birckbichler, a regular 27-year-old from Virginia – and now Men’s Health Activist – had to say.
How would you sum up your experience of testicular cancer? “I found a lump in my left testicle one day. Two weeks later, it was gone. And by it, I mean my testicle, turns out the lump was cancerous. Since the cancer spread, I had ten weeks of chemo and I am now in remission.”
What would you say to your "pre-diagnosed self", knowing what you do now? “You can have a lot of balls in the air and do them all adequately – or have a firm grasp on one thing and do it really well. Opt for the latter.”
What message do you have to others about life perspective and priorities? “Getting cancer in and of itself was a blessing in disguise. Before cancer, I was like a dog chasing a ball – although little did I know I was about to lose one. Find the one thing that drives you and commit to it.”
What message would you have for men about being aware of testicular cancer? “Simply, you need to be aware of this disease and discuss it with your friends. Will talking about it be uncomfortable? At first, probably. But eventually we can change the dynamic and the stigma surrounding men discussing their health. If you’re still unsure about gabbing about your gonads, I’ll just say this to you: I survived testicular cancer, so you can survive a semi-awkward conversation that may help prevent someone else from having to do the same.”
We all need some moments of dark humour in health. What was yours? “Terms such as balls, sack and nuts lend themselves nicely to puns and humour. It’d be a crime to not utilise it. Humour 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 conversations easier to swallow and more apt to be an actual conversation rather than a lecture.”
What's your top tip for testicular self-examination? “Make it a habit. Commit to choosing one day a month to do a self exam. A shower is a great place to do it (unless it’s a communal shower at the locker room, in which case you might want to wait until you get home). It’s private, your scrotum is relaxed and your pants are probably off. It only takes two minutes – in my case, it only takes one now. And besides, let’s be real, you’ve touched yourself down there hundreds of times. Make it count once a month.”
What is your final message for GQ readers? “Carpe scrotiem! Seize the scrotum. Check yourself and talk about your 'boys' with your boys!”
For more on Justin and his campaign to raise awareness and destigmatise testicular cancer, go to his website, aballsysenseoftumor.com or tweet him at @absotTC. Dr Nick Knight is a GP. Follow him on Twitter at @DrNickKnight.
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