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.
As a testicular cancer survivor, April is a step in the right direction, but we can do more
April is Testicular Cancer Awareness Month. Prior to being diagnosed in 2016, I had no idea that there was a specific month for a cancer that solely affects my sex. I've been running a testicular cancer awareness blog, A Ballsy Sense of Tumor, with the explicit goal of changing the attitudes and beliefs of society towards talking about men's health. Though I have written a piece about six common ways to bring up testicles in everyday conversation, I still feel like society has a long way to go before testicular cancer is acceptable to openly discuss.
I have hope though, especially when I look at another cancer that is generally thought of as gender-specific: breast cancer. It wasn't easy for breast cancer activists to raise the level of awareness that the disease has today. In the 1970s, Shirley Temple Black and First Lady Betty Ford publicly announced their diagnoses, which helped bring widespread attention and acceptance to this cancer. Nowadays, dozens of female celebrities speak out about their personal battles and many other sports teams, companies and highly-visible corporations make a point to contribute to the discussion around breast cancer.
I want to live in a world where we can freely talk about testicular self-exams. Not talking about self-exams (and following through with it) can be a potentially life-threatening mistake.
How can we as a society overcome the stigma that surrounds testicular cancer? Having months like April designated as "awareness months" is helpful, but awareness can't be something that only happens for one month out of the year. I found a lump in October and was diagnosed in November. April is a long way off from those months.
I am now aware because I had to be: testicular cancer is a part of my life. But what about those men from 15-35 who are highly susceptible to testicular cancer? The average guy doesn't know about the importance of regular self checks until it's too late, and I know this is because of the sad truth that people don't want to talk about their testicles. Testicular cancer is highly treatable, especially in its early stages, but that does no good if men simply aren't aware of their own risk. We can't let these conversations about testicular health, no matter how awkward they might be, get brushed aside because society feels uncomfortable discussing testicles.
It's one thing to question society, but it's far more important to provide actionable ways to make these changes happen:
Share a photo a day.
Each day throughout the month of April, I will be sharing a graphic with an interesting fact, statistic, risk factor, or something else related to testicular cancer across Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. When these pictures come up, forward them to the men in your life.
I'll do you one better, and link to the entire slideshow here. From here, you can grab your own copy of the entire thing, download each picture individually, and share as you wish.
Want to take it a step further? Make your own pictures and share them. Include your own journey, stats you find, and whatever else you'd like.
Band with the Band of Ballers
In essence, the Band of Ballers series gives a platform to other testicular cancer survivors and patients to both share their story and highlight what they've done post diagnosis to spread awareness about this disease.
How can you help? Share the posts as they're published. Follow and reach out to those individuals who are featured. Together, we can make a difference.
Take part in #Takea2nd4theBoys
The premise of #TakeA2nd4TheBoys campaign is simple: you're more likely to remember to check yourself if you have a reminder. Add your own self-exam reminder to your Google Calendar here! We're super connected to our phones, and by having a recurring calendar appointment on the second of every month, we're more likely to remember to do a self-check.
Share the #Takea2nd4theBoys page with all the men in your life. It's as simple as taking one click to add it to your Google Calendar or setting up an appointment on your phone. Include directions in the description so you never forget how. See below for written instructions in the following point.
Simply, talk, text and tweet
This last point is probably the easiest. Simply put - talk, text, and tweet about men's health regularly. We all have men in our lives - brothers, fathers, husbands, boyfriends, friends, teammates, and random people we meet on the street.
Make a point each month to choose one of those guys you know and mention men's health with them. Follow up every month from there. By the end of the year, that's twelve men you'll have spoken to. Task them with doing the same. This is starting to sound like a bad word problem, so to spare you the math - that's a whole lot of guys (and roughly twice the amount of testicles)!
Make sure whatever you do, you include directions on how to self-check. According the Testicular Cancer Society, only about 42 percent of surveyed men know how to perform a self-exam. Self-checks and early detection are critical. Do what I do and keep the following self-exam instructions as a note on your phone. Copying and pasting is a heck of a lot easier than rewriting the same thing over and over.
I close with a simple question: Will you help me get the ball rolling and shed some light where the sun don't shine?