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 email@example.com.
When you lose six months of your life to battling cancer, you make every moment going forward count.
Something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is the concept of lost time. Compared to some cancer treatments that last for years on end, four months of surgery/treatment followed by an additional few months of feeling “off” during recovery isn’t too terrible. While I still continue to struggle with the emotional and mental ramifications of experiencing cancer, my life is more or less physically back on track.
Despite this, I have a hard time letting go of the fact that I lost nearly half a year of my life, especially a year that was supposed to be one of the happiest in my life with our upcoming wedding. While I don’t mind lying around watching movies for hours on end (such as later tonight when I watch Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2 [for the third time]), I like doing that when it’s my choice… not because I have no energy to do anything else.
However, I am not simply dwelling on the time lost and doing nothing about it. I am making changes in my life and making the most of the time I have now that I am healthy. One of the biggest lifestyle changes is a renewed commitment to physical activity and eating healthy. Before cancer (can I just call this era “BC”?), I was really invested in working out during college. When I moved to Virginia, I kept up with fitness, but once I started my Master’s program, I let my healthy habits slip. Though I finished my Masters in 2015, over a year prior to my cancer diagnosis, I did not make a sustained effort in restarting a regular exercise regimen. I would jog for a few days, but it never lasted. I always had an excuse… not enough time, no energy, etc. etc.
After experiencing chemo and knowing what it truly feels like to have no energy, I am making fitness a priority (I promise this isn’t leading into a Beachbody coach spiel; I really hate those). I started with doing P90X (still not a Beachbody post!) but decided I needed to do more. I joined a gym and got a fitness plan from Estrella Body Architect, which is owned by the spouse of a survivor (and also has many great shirts available at Courage and a Cure). Sticking with my new habit hasn’t been too difficult. Because I’m paying for a monthly gym membership, it feels like I’m throwing money away each time I make an excuse not to use it, which is a motivator for me to stay committed. I am a few weeks in and am making it a goal to hit the gym every day.
On the topic of money, I am trying to let go of my frugality (or “tightwaddedness” as my wife says). In the BC time, I was very stingy with money, since I want to be able to retire before 80 and have a good life. Now, I know that life isn’t necessarily guaranteed, and we should enjoy the time we have in the present. We went to Hawaii on our honeymoon, and I didn’t stress (too much) about the fact that some meals cost double what we would pay in Virginia. It was about the experience. Pouring money into creating memorable moments is something that is far more valuable than saving it or spending it on random items.
The Hawaiian trip was truly that: the experience of a lifetime. I love to travel, and this trip was exactly what I needed. For two weeks, I did not worry about a recurrence or any of the other fears that plague my mind occasionally. We hiked up a crater, drove ATVs in Jurassic World, swam with dolphins, visited Pearl Harbor, snorkeled in the reefs and so much more. I embraced every moment of that trip. If you’ve recently ended the treatment part of your journey, take a trip ASAP. You’ve earned it. And if you want to pay me to come with you, I won’t say no.
My new attitude extended into my day to day life as well. Our AC unit died the third day back from the honeymoon and rather than repairing it, we had to replace the whole system, costing several thousand dollars. In the BC era, I would have freaked out about the amount of money we had just spent in Hawaii, but the new me shrugged it off. If I have this time now, I’m not going to worry about things I have no control over. You do not want to be in Virginia in August without air conditioning!
Beyond musing about the lost opportunities from the time when I had cancer, I’m finding I am having a hard time recalling what did happen while I was going through chemo and recovery. November through March is all sort of hazy. I can remember significant elements of the journey, but I can’t remember details here and there. Luckily, I wrote the majority of it down here on this blog and have friends and family to remind me. If you’re a current cancer patient, I recommend writing down your experiences. You don’t need to post it publicly anywhere, but you’ll want to look back and see how much you’ve overcome. They might not be memories that are exactly pleasant, but they are important and will help shape you going forward into your recovery.
Despite losing half of a year to testicular cancer, I look back at this time period to remind me of how far I’ve come and where I still want to go. So, here’s to a continued resolution to grab life by the ball(s) and make up for lost time. We only have one life and we need to live it to the fullest (wow, I sound like such a millennial).