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.
Finding a lump on my remaining testicle sent me into a tailspin on while vacation.
Mow the lawn - Check.
Do some writing - Check.
Finish that David Baldacci novel I've been working on - Check.
I was on spring break from work, but midway through I experienced what I thought was sure to be a crisis.
On Wednesday, April 19, 2017, approximately six weeks after being told I was in remission, my worst fear came true. I felt what seemed to be a lump on my remaining right testicle while in the bathroom. (I found it ironic that my first lump was found in the shower and now this one was discovered while using the toilet. I need to avoid bathrooms, I suppose.)
Cue full-blown panic mode. As a testicular cancer survivor, cancer is never far from my mind, but at that point, I had been feeling more or less normal. Optimistically, I had thought the worst was behind me, but at that moment, it didn't appear so.
The "lump" felt very similar to the original lump on Lefty: small and pea-shaped. I had difficulty finding it at times (since I did self-checks pretty much every five minutes after finding it), but the original lump in October had behaved in the same way.
I found this new "lump" in the evening, around 5 p.m. Immediately, I called my oncologist, Dr. Maurer, but the office was closing and Lizz, the receptionist, told me he was on vacation for the week. I left a message for Nurse Jen, which probably came off a lot more frantic than I meant. I also called Dr. Dumont (my urologist), too, but his office was closed as well. As always, my timing was awful.
I tried to maintain a steady resolve, but it was hard. I knew there was a slim likelihood of the cancer returning, but I didn't expect there to be any developments this soon. I had been doing self-checks nearly daily; how could I have missed something?
Right before I went to bed, I checked again. The "lump" was, indeed, still there. I didn't have pain or anything, but again, I didn't the first time either. I know that cancerous lumps are often just that — a lump with no pain or other symptoms that indicate a bigger problem.
The next morning, I called Dr. Dumont's office again and got through. They scheduled an appointment for 1:50 that day. About an hour later, Nurse Jenn called back. She had gotten ahold of Dr. Maurer (despite him being on vacation; sorry for interrupting!) and he ordered an ultrasound at 12:30, with orders to read it on the spot. This would be perfect. I had the ultrasound and then my appointment with Dr. Dumont. No waiting games this time.
The ultrasound was very similar to my first one, with two main exceptions. First, I was checked by two people instead of one because of my newly-minted remission status. Second, they didn't seem as worried as the tech in October did. I took that as a good sign, but I was still sure there was something in there.
After the ultrasound was finished, I met with Dr. Dumont, who did an examination of my testicle as we waited on the ultrasound report. He said he didn't feel anything abnormal and asked me to check again. I did and had difficulty finding anything, too. It was strange to me because I had clearly felt a "lump" the prior evening.
He excused himself to check if the report had reached him yet and came back to get me a few moments later. He had my original ultrasound of my cancerous left testicle up on the screen. To be frank, it looked very gnarly. If you could imagine taking a ball of aluminum foil, crinkling it more, rolling it in mud, stomping on it, and then forming it into a ball, that's what my testicle had looked like. I hadn't ever seen those images, so it was shocking to me. He then showed me the current scan (which appeared to be smooth and egg-shaped) and said he didn't see any abnormalities. The radiologist's report hadn't been completed yet, but in his estimation, he didn't see anything wrong.
Much like Dr. Maurer had said that some of my latent "side effects" might be psychological, Dr. Dumont said that I might be doing self-checks too often. It's recommended to do them once a month, but I've more or less been doing them daily since I finished chemo.
He said, "It's good to be aware, and I'm glad you are. But perseverating on one thing for too long can be almost as damaging as neglecting it." (Context clues helped me to figure out what perseverating meant.)
One of the things I have liked about Dr. Dumont from the start is how he gives it to me straight. I needed him to say that. I've been trying to be proactive, but perhaps I've been hyperactive in trying to detect any new cancer. I don't want to have cancer again, and I definitely don't want to do any more chemo. However, I think I've let my concern turn into paranoia, which is probably typical considering what I've been through.
As I pulled out of Dr. Dumont's office, I gave Nurse Jenn a call to tell her my appointment was done. She had just received the radiologist's report. There were no signs of cancer in the ultrasound. I thanked her and said I was probably just worrying unnecessarily, to which she said she understood.
I'm happy that this post will remain as a single post, rather than a series of posts detailing another surgery and more treatment. It did open my eyes to how quickly I can now start worrying (which surprised me because I was pretty level-headed through everything) but I'm glad it was able to be taken care of within 24 hours. It's even better that my cancer scare had a positive outcome.
I know I felt something in my testicle the previous night, but I have no idea what it was. As of publishing this, I still don't feel anything abnormal. However, I will heed Dr. Dumont's advice and only check myself weekly instead of daily. He suggested, "Mondays suck anyways, so make that your check day."