2 Years Out + 1 Ball Down: What I Learned from Testicular Cancer

"2 Years Out + 1 Ball Down: What I Learned from Testicular Cancer" by Matt Sachs

Is there 1 testicle in this picture or 2?

 

Hi! This is Matt, Amanda’s husband. For Movember, she invited me to her blog to share my experience with testicular cancer. Two years ago, a tiny lump on my testicle changed my life. I always had a cordial and generally playful relationship with my right teste (henceforth referred to as Righty for the remainder of this blog post [RIP Righty 1988–2015]), and despite my extensive/expensive education and career in healthcare (I work as a physical therapist in a hospital), I never performed self-checks. For such a seemingly consequential life event, I don’t actually remember any initial earth-shattering discovery of the pea-sized lump on Righty. What eventually led me to actually get a professional’s eyes on my balls was that it was such a dense firmness and that it seemed to be popping up right out of Righty’s head.

Luckily, I was due for my annual wellness visit, which is a quick 5–10 minute charade of a doctor’s appointment where you get your blood pressure taken, get told to eat an occasional vegetable, and your health insurance premiums for the year go down by $10 a month. I called the employee health department and was able to get in for a wellness visit a few days later. As we’re going through the motions of the visit, I mention that I had a lump on my testicle that had been bothering me for a few days. Clearly, this was not par for the course of wellness visits, but the doctor of course was obliged to take a look at the boys and see what was going on (incidentally, this also began the weeks-long streak of showing my dick and balls to more people than have probably ever seen them otherwise).

“Hmmm…it does feel solid, it doesn’t have the feel of a cyst. It also seems to be arising directly from the testicle. Excuse me for just a minute.” The doctor stepped out of the room, leaving me both figuratively and literally with my pants around my ankles. What happened next was a wave of follow up doctor appointments including a very stern woman with a Russian accent rubbed a giant ultrasound want over my testicles for about 20 minutes (fodder for later nightmares). After the ultrasound, I received a voicemail from the doctor, saying that the mass was “highly suspicious for a malignancy” and that he had set up an appointment with a urologist for that afternoon. After some brief background about the types of testicular cancer this could be and what treatment plans and outcomes were like, the doctor told me that the testicle would have to go, preferably the next morning if possible.

Now, if it feels like I rushed very quickly from noticing a new bump on Righty to having a specialist tell me it was serious enough that it should be removed ASAP, imagine having all of this happen over the course of a few days, or in the case of the ultrasound and urologist, the same day.

I had the surgery to remove Righty and after 3–4 weeks of mind-numbing boredom (surgery to remove a testicle, or an orchiectomy for those into Latin, has the same approach as repair of an inguinal hernia and as such, I was on strict lifting restrictions for 6 weeks which meant no work as physical therapist and no walking my 60 pound beast of a dog) the results of my biopsy came back. My tumor was 100% embryonal carcinoma, which is a more aggressive type of tumor with a higher risk of spread. More tests revealed that it had spread to my abdominal lymph nodes, as well as nodules in my lungs that were suspicious for malignancy as well. After more doctor visits, second opinions and a cluster of residents, interns, and anybody else who wanted a peek, it was decided that four rounds of chemotherapy were my best option as opposed to surgery to remove my lymph nodes.

"2 Years Out + 1 Ball Down: What I Learned from Testicular Cancer" by Matt Sachs on Amanda Michele Art

Right after surgery, I guess I asked Amanda to take a picture to send to my mom.

 

I don’t know that there’s anything I can write about the experience of going through chemotherapy that would enhance your understanding of the highs and lows of those few months. The feeling of powerlessness was the most pervasive of the many emotions I experienced over the three month period of chemotherapy. Powerlessness over what was happening inside my body, an inability to live my normal life, and an inability to plan for anything outside of a weeklong window because I was making decisions based only on how I was feeling at any particular moment, which could vacillate wildly between surprisingly energetic and jovial to debilitated and depressed.

I’ve thought a lot about how going through this experience has changed my perceptions of masculinity and manhood, especially since “balls” are inextricably linked to fortitude, bravery, and courage. I have no shame when someone finds out I’ve only got Lefty. I’ve learned a lot about my own strength and courage on this journey, but as importantly I’ve learned to ask for help and know when I can’t do things on my own.

I don’t think “being a man” means handling everything on your own and holding everything inside; it’s recognizing when you’re in a situation that you can’t get through on your own, and knowing that you’ll be able to pay it forward for someone else going through their own difficult time.

As Thanksgiving is here and I’ve got time to self-reflect, what I’m thankful for is not only that I’ve been able to put another year between myself and this horrendous ordeal, but for all of the people in my life who helped me along the way and whom I’ve grown closer to as a result. Whether it was just stopping by to chat for a few minutes while I had poison pumped into my veins or the (seemingly) hundreds of people who made soup, I am so appreciative to each and every person who stepped in to give me a boost when I needed it the most.

Since the demise of Righty, I’ve experienced so much more of what this life has to offer. I became an uncle, got married to the love of my life and traveled to Europe on our honeymoon. If there’s anything for you to take away from this long (and I promise it’s ending soon) post, is that as trivial or pointless as it seems, CHECK YOUR BALLS! If you don’t have balls, tell someone who means a lot to you that maybe they should do a quick screen every month. Fortunately, most testicular cancers are very treatable and respond favorably to chemotherapy and/or surgery when caught early, and that’s the big thing catch it early! Also, don’t be afraid of accessing this nightmare of a health care system. If you just let your doctor know you’ve found something they will help you get in front of the right people to get the treatment you need. It may be a long an brutal process of healing but trust me, life is worth it.

and support Men’s Health through awareness and research

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