Justin Birckbichler is a fourth grade teacher, testicular cancer survivor and the founder of aBallsySenseofTumor.com. From being diagnosed in November 2016 at the age of 25, to finishing chemo in January 2017, to being cleared in remission in March, he has been passionate about sharing his story to spread awareness and promote open conversation about men's health. Connect with him on Instagram @aballsysenseoftumor, on Twitter @absotTC, on Facebook or via email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Use these five easy conversation starters to be on the ball with the men in your life!
The topic of testicles can be considered impolite, even if it’s coming from a place of education. One of the primary goals of my blog is to get these “private” conversations out in the open — but that’s easier said than done. So, to help, a la Barney Stinson’s Playbook from How I Met Your Mother, I’ve crafted various ways to bring up self-checks and testicles into everyday dialogue, based on some real-life experiences.
1. The Conversation Weaver
While mowing my yard a few weeks ago, I saw my neighbor gearing up to do the same. He's about my age, and we've only talked twice. We started chatting about my upcoming wedding and honeymoon. I said something to the effect of, “After facing cancer this year, I really need a Hawaiian vacation.” It was that easy to weave the topic in naturally. Knowing his age put him at a higher risk for testicular cancer, I segued into telling him to do a self-check. He looked at me and said, "How? I've never even heard of that."
This anecdote is what sparked this whole blog post. While it was relatively easy to bring testicular health up in conversation, it proves there's still work to do with raising awareness. It's not enough to simply say to do a self-check; men need to know how to do them, too. I told my neighbor the steps: Place your index and middle fingers under the testicle with your thumb on top. Firmly but gently, roll the testicle between your fingers. Repeat on the other one. After sharing this, he actually thanked me, even though it was a semi-awkward third conversation.
2. The Carpe Scrotiem
I’m not sure if it is because I have become more attuned to news media about testicular cancer due to my personal circumstances, but it seems that more celebrities are speaking out about their testicular cancer diagnoses. In the past few months, several baseball players have gone on the record about their battles, and HGTV’s Tarek El Moussa from Flip or Flop shared that he overcame testicular cancer in 2013.
Use these celebrities to get a conversation going. See them on the cover of “People” or on the scrolling banner thingie on the bottom of the screen on “SportsCenter” (I don’t watch ESPN much)? Point it out and say, “I had testicular cancer, too. Do you know how important it is to do regular self-checks?” Whoever you’re talking to will now have two connections to testicular cancer - the celebrity and you. If you follow it up with a how-to if necessary, it will make that person that much more likely to keep up with their self-check schedule.
3. The Misconception Redemption
The morning of my wedding, one of my groomsmen said, “Can’t you get testicular cancer from getting kicked hard in the balls?” After berating him for not reading my blog enough, I told him that that myth comes from people realizing something is wrong after getting kicked down there.
I used this as another opportunity to yet again rehash how to do a self-check. There are a ton of myths and misconceptions (I personally like the portmanteau “mythconception”), and dispelling these can be a way to get a conversation flowing.
After discussing this with him, I gave him a swift kick… obviously to help him remember to self-check.
4. The Pun Game Strong
It’s sometimes hard to have such a stiff conversation, and it’s certainly not a ball to do it, but you would be a nut to not sack it up and do it. Don’t get teste about it.
One of the only good things about testicular cancer is that it lends itself to many puns and jokes. How many did you catch in the opening sentence? Hint: there are at least five! Words related to testicular cancer all form perfect jokes. When I write my book, I’m sure there will be a chapter dedicated solely to testicular cancer puns. Find an opportunity and work it in — the humor will lighten the conversation enough so that you can get serious without making things too awkward.
Case in point: as I wrote this post, I was sitting in an airport. Apparently, my carry-on was too large for the overhead compartments. The counter agent said, “Sir, can you check your bag?”
“Once a month, my friend. Once a month.”
5. The Blunt Approach
Of all my recommendations, this is my personal favorite. Why? It helps destigmatize talking about testicles (or TesteTalk...hold that thought as I run to the US Trademark office). It’s straightforward and to the point. It helps make it acceptable to talk about balls in public.
For this approach, lead right off with a direct approach. Around when I was diagnosed and received numerous texts asking if I was OK, I countered with, “Have you (or your husband/fiancé/boyfriend/brother/dad/grandfather/male robot) done a self-check recently?”
While it may have initially caught the person off-guard (especially those who were merely being kind by checking in), I had their attention. From there, I explained how to check. Directly connecting to my (or your) own personal experiences with testicular cancer can be much more powerful than a more socially acceptable but less helpful reference. Yes, this approach is blunt (I don’t think anyone would ever accuse me of subtlety), but it helps get those conversations out there, which is what we really need.
If you’re still feeling unsure about gabbing about your gonads, I’ll just say this to you: I’ve survived testicular cancer, so you can survive a semi-awkward conversation that may help prevent someone else from having to do the same. Once you get the ball rolling, I think you’ll find talking naturally about testicular health isn’t a hard nut to crack.