I Had Testicular Cancer: 4 Awkward Realities
You've heard the phrase "I'd give my right nut for [X]?" Well, I did give my right nut ... for cancer. Sounds like a terrible deal, right? Well, I choose to view the sack as more half-full than half-empty. Plus I got some choice nicknames out of the deal: odd-ball, uniballer, speed bag, wrecking ball, and (my personal favorite) sac-lops. But it's not all fun and games until somebody loses a ball. Let me tell you ...
The Doctor Will Remove The Testicle Without Offering Any Choice
I was doing a teaching placement at a local high school in the fall of 2008, and one day, the school had an assembly about testicular cancer. About four percent of testicular bumps turn out to be cancerous, warned the speaker. It's the most common type of cancer for men 20-35. Without treatment, it's 100 percent fatal, but with treatment, patients recover some 98 percent of the time. So at home, newly warned, I felt myself up and found a lump the size of a pea. And as I prepared to visit the hospital to get it checked, I faced a dreaded possibility: What if, when the doctor looked me over, I got a boner?
In my defense, they're the ones who insisted I not wear any pants.
It was a real fear. The examination would involve the ultrasound technician rubbing a gel over my genitals and then stroking the balls with a humming ultrasound transducer -- a vibrator, basically. This would go on for 20 minutes. Surely, it would feel sexual, and my body would respond. What if the technician was a woman? What if it was a man? But of course, there was another, far more serious fear as well: What if they laughed at my pubic hair? Should I shave before the appointment? Or, gosh, maybe they'd then notice I'd gone out of my way to make myself pretty, and that would make things even more awkward!
In the end, however, there was nothing to worry about. I mean, yeah, they found cancer, but no surprise boners!
Look, you gotta take your wins when you get them.
So I went to a urologist, who said, "We're going to schedule a surgery to remove your testicle." Normally, when you have some kind of disease, I guess a doctor sits you down and then talks about "options." Here, my options were "remove testicle on Wednesday" or "remove testicle on Thursday."
They Suck Out Your Ball Without Slicing Open The Sack
You hopefully haven't spent much time thinking about how to remove a testicle, but if you did, you'd suppose they cut the scrotum open, yank it out with an ice cream scoop, and then sew the sack back up. But that's not how it's done. I had an inguinal orchiectomy. They made the incision in my abdomen, not the scrotum. They then pulled the ball up through my body and out the new hole (the surgeon was probably awesome at those claw arcade games when he was a kid). They have good reasons for this -- cutting the scrotum messes with the lymph nodes there, which increases the chance of the cancer spreading -- but it's also probably because no man wants to cut into a nut sack. Even doctors have to sleep at night.
No one wants to look a penis in the eye and say, "We're taking your friend away."
When I awoke, the ball was gone, but it felt as though it were still there -- and was being chewed on by an ogre. For the next few days, my best friend was a frozen bag of corn. I spent the majority of my recovery on my couch, Jolly Green Giant bag strategically placed, taking my prescribed painkillers like clockwork.
It wasn't so bad, except that smug green bastard kept laughing.
But I'm relieved to say that I don't experience any phantom ball pain there today. Or any other phantom sensations, if that's where your mind goes.
Prostheses Are A Serious Consideration, For Some Reason
I didn't opt to get a prosthetic testicle (a prosthesticle, to use what should be the medical term). Yes, those are real; they're saline sacs with the approximate weight and size of the missing organ, like the implants women get after mastectomies. Except ball implants make way less sense. Everyone you meet can see how many breasts you have, but unless I'm doing cartwheels in short shorts, ordinary passersby don't count my balls. Maybe it's meant for sex, but I just can't imagine a woman comparing two prospective groins and saying, "Two balls? Nice." But some men do go for the Nerf ball, and end up regretting it (around 25 percent, according to this survey).
"What do you mean I can't return it? I still have the receipt."
They say it interferes with sex as well as exercise, because it feels too firm. I guess it's down to societal pressure. "That takes a lot of balls." "That's ballsy." "Balls to the wall." "Go balls deep." "Balls out." "He's got balls of steel." "Grab life by the balls." "You don't have the balls!" It even crosses languages -- if someone says, "He has a lot of cojones," I'll know what that means, and that's the only word of Spanish I know.
The Lone Survivor Will Do Double Duty
My remaining ball migrated to a new spot right in the center of the scrotum. Like when people lose a kidney, it took up the slack and does the job of two now. I know this not because I tried measuring with tablespoons, but because of what happened after the surgery. A couple weeks later, I went back to the hospital, and they found the cancer had spread.
They would treat the spread with chemotherapy, though chemo hadn't been a promising route for the original testicular cancer. But it could affect my fertility, so they suggested I go to a sperm bank and store some baby batter beforehand. I did so, and I was told my output matched that of a healthy two-balled man in volume, sperm count, motility, etc. My dad accompanied me to the bank, and if you can think of something more awkward than that, let's hear it. Though keep in mind that, keen on grandchildren, he insists on paying for the semen storage. He calls it "my frozen futures."
The chemotherapy worked, and I'm cancer-free now. I'm actually thinking of getting a sperm teardrop tattoo on my cheek to commemorate beating cancer. I wasn't lucky to get cancer, but I was to catch it relatively early. So I recommend all you males in the audience, reach down and examine your balls today. If possible, get an attractive friend to lend a hand. If you don't have a friend, ask help from passing strangers in a well-lit location, such as an airport or public library.
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