Justin Birckbichler

Testicular Cancer At 25

Prior to 2016, I had 25 years of the most boring medical history ever.

I had scoliosis for a few years, but it stabilized. I battled with depression in high school, but survived that. I had some cavities filled and my wisdom teeth removed. I suffered a mild concussion once when I took a tumble on a snowboarding trip. I am colorblind, but that hasn’t changed at all in the past few years.

Prior to my diagnosis, I didn’t make health a priority, and perhaps my uneventful health history and lack of testicular cancer in my family history caused me to be less worried overall.

In mid-September 2016, I was doing a self-exam in the shower and felt what seemed to be a pea-sized lump. The following day, when I went to check myself again, I did not feel anything.

Looking back, my decision to forget about my discovery for a while could have been because I was just being a typical guy — ignoring a symptom because “guys don’t go to the doctor.” Perhaps, because there was no “pain” associated with the lump, I thought it was nothing. So I ignored it.

Flash forward to early October 2016. I was in the shower, checking myself again, and felt something in the same spot as last time. But what I had noticed last time was one small pea-sized lump, and this felt larger.

There were other areas of concern, too — for lack of a better way to describe it, think of a jellyfish wrapped around a rock (or, for you sci-fi fans, a face-hugger alien).

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. I knew I couldn’t put it off again and called my doctor to schedule an appointment.

Initially, the nurse practitioner I saw had an issue with finding the lump. I was flabbergasted that it was hard to find, but I also know my body best, so I kind of rearranged myself to find and isolate the lump so she could feel it. She did then find it and confirmed yes, there was a lump.

The next step was to get an ultrasound. The results from that test caused my doctor to suspect cancer. This would be confirmed after surgery. The testicle was removed at the end of the month, but a CT scan in early November revealed that the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes — officially my diagnosis/staging was Stage IIB nonseminoma testicular cancer — so I needed BEP chemotherapy.

I started 21 treatments in late November and concluded at the end of January 2017. A scan in March showed that I was in remission, and I remain in remission as of December 2017.

My advice to others is: Carpe Scrotiem! Don’t be afraid to check yourself and talk about your ‘boys’ with your boys! On a serious note, men need to start by talking openly about their health. I want to live in a world where we can freely talk about testicular self-exams.

I write and am an advocate for men’s health through my blog, A Ballsy Sense of Tumor. The main goal of the blog is to open up lines of dialogue about testicular cancer and men’s health in general. My GP, urologist and oncologist all stressed how important calling early and not putting it off was in a successful course of treatment.

Not talking about it can be a potentially life-threatening mistake. Keeping each other accountable for performing regular self-checks is also critical. Without honest conversations, this accountability is impossible.

Editor’s note:  Justin is conducting a short, multiple-choice survey about testicular self-exams. He hopes the results will provide insight into how to improve early detection rates for testicular cancer. Click here to participate.

"I want to live in a world where we can freely talk about testicular self-exams."

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