One day, our biggest fear was if he would pass the bar exam and the next he was being told he needed to bank sperm.
Balls, cajones, rocks, nuts, “grow some balls,” “where are your balls?” “balls to the wall” and my personal favorite: “Balls said the Queen—if I had them I’d be King.” All of these synonyms and expressions are so part of our everyday language, even women now praise each other by saying “you have some balls.” Then there are the annoyingly acceptable practices by men in public rearranging, moving, handling, and scratching the entire area.
October is now over and the sea of pink to raise awareness for breast cancer has now subsided. We have now entered NoShaveNovember and Movember when health professionals and other men will grow beards and/or mustaches to raise awareness for men’s health issues. These issues include prostate cancer, mental illness, and the one I am all too familiar with, testicular cancer.
Fifteen years ago my boyfriend of two years was diagnosed with testicular cancer. It was discovered during a physical I scheduled for him and only after he came out of surgery did he confess to having a bad feeling that something was wrong. We were both in our mid-20s. One day, our biggest fear was if he would pass the bar exam and the next he was being told he needed to bank sperm.
We focused on the one thing everyone seemed to know, “it’s the most treatable cancer, it has the highest cure rate—it’s one of the ‘best’ cancers to get” but that doesn’t mean we talked about it. It’s one thing to say “I have cancer” but it’s another thing to say “I have testicular cancer.” He was asked if he wanted a prosthetic, a similar shaped “object,” but he wanted the tumor out and didn’t see why he would put a useless foreign object in its place. For single men, they may prefer the prosthetic, if they want to have casual sexual encounters, a cancer survival story isn’t casual—though it is more and more common. For me, personally, I loved him more than any man I had ever known and his loss of a testicle made no difference to me or my attraction to him. I was thrilled he was going to live a long, healthy life—preferably with me.
Within weeks of his surgery, he took the New York State Bar exam and passed. He had radiation treatment and became another member of that ever-growing club that no one ever wants to join. At the time, I remember being glad that “we” had a high-profile person like Lance Armstrong, a successful survivor living not just a “normal” but an extraordinary life.
Ten years later we were married and were able to celebrate his being “cured.” We lived and loved and watched as his father and my mother were slowly and painfully taken by different cancers and then four months ago, at a routine check-up, they felt something, drew blood, performed scans and 48 hours later he had his second testicle removed.
It was small, caught early, but we were stunned in a way that I’m not sure we have yet to fully process. We didn’t think “lightning could strike twice.” We fooled ourselves into thinking that it was like chicken pox, you get it once and then never again, but it’s not chicken pox and again we said, “it’s a 95% survival rate.” This time we had to decide what kind of testosterone treatment he wanted. There were injections or surgically implanted pellets or gels applied daily to the skin. I wanted to know if he would have “roid rage” (he does not) and it wasn’t until weeks later that I suddenly came to the realization that I could stop taking birth control pills.
I am writing this piece anonymously because the impact of testicular cancer is not my story to tell, but as an ally and partner, I hope that the same young men who have been socialized to name their penis and scratch their testicles, but not see a doctor or perform self-exams, think about the big picture and the long term—this is a success story and no one has to die from testicular cancer.
Also, when you hear people make ignorant and thoughtless jokes (i.e. “The Real Housewives of Orange County’s”, Lydia McLaughlin having a “Ball Voyage yacht party” and laughing that her husband was “having his balls cut off” when he was actually getting a vasectomy) feel free to forward them this piece because I can sincerely and truthfully say I love my sexy husband with “no balls” and he is the definition of a real man.