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.
I hadn't been to the doctor in over two years, but now I was about to meet three new ones in less than a week.
A few days after finding a lump on my left testicle in late 2016, I arrived at the doctor's office and had to fill out a ton of paperwork. Up to this point in my life, I had the world's most boring medical history: scoliosis when I was younger, wisdom teeth out at 17, slightly above average height and weight and no family history of testicular cancer. After discussing with her the reason for my visit and my enthralling medical history, she told me to drop my pants so she could examine me.
Initially, the doctor had an issue with finding the lump. In my mind, I knew exactly where it was, and I was flabbergasted that it was hard to find, but I also know my body best. Eventually, she found it and confirmed yes, there was a lump. She said that the next step was to get an ultrasound. Before going into the appointment, I knew that I wouldn't have answers immediately that day, but it was frustrating that I had to wait even longer for a more defined picture of what I would be facing.
After a few delays over the next days, I finally got a call to schedule an ultrasound for that day. Roughly two hours after the call, I went for the ultrasound. I had not had one in recent memory, so I didn't really know what to expect. The nurse said she would step out to give me some privacy to change. I found this humorous because she was just going to come back in and see everything anyway.
During the ultrasound, she turned on this microphone feature to listen to the bloodflow of each testicle. The right one (the unaffected one) sounded like calming ocean waves. His brother, the concerning one, sounded like a pack of angry wolves chasing. I took this as an indication that something was wrong, but the nurse said it wasn't super alarming. "Easy for you to say," I thought to myself.
After the ultrasound was done, she said she had to go consult with the radiologist to see if he was going to come talk to me or if she would share preliminary results. She came back saying that she was the one to share the news. There was indeed a solid mass in there, and that meant either inflammation or cancer. She urged me to call my doctor to discuss results and said they would have analysis of the CT scan by the end of the day.
I never got a chance to call my doctor because she called me first. Obviously, getting a call that quickly after the scan did not bode well in my mind. She again reiterated what the radiologist report said and followed this with statistics on incidence rates of testicular cancer. About half of testicular cancers occur in men between the ages of 20 and 34, and I was 25 at the time. She also added that the risk of testicular cancer among white men is about four to five times that of black men and that of Asian-American men. These numbers were significantly higher and more serious than I expected. I was told to call a local urologist to schedule an appointment for further consultation.
My urologist appointment was scheduled for the next day. After the customary "drop your pants and let me examine you," the doctor looked me in the eye and said, "So I am going to be straight with you. You have cancer."
Wow. Even though I had my suspicions, it was still vastly different to hear it from a doctor. Furthermore, I had only called been in for an initial visit less than a week prior. I went from having an area of concern to being a cancer patient in just over a week.
I did appreciate how straightforward and frank he was being with me. He said based on his brief examination and the ultrasound, he was 99 percent certain that it was cancer.
"Is this something I get a second opinion on?" I asked.
"In most cases, I tell my patients to get a second opinion. In your case, we don't have time," he replied.
The good news about testicular cancer is that it is very treatable. While 1 in 250 men will develop it, only 1 in 5,000 of them will die from it. That’s roughly 1 in 300,00 of all men, according to the American Cancer Society. On the whole, it has a 95 percent five-year survival rate. The bad news is that it is very aggressive. It can quickly spread to other parts of the body and become more complicated. Dr. Dumont said I had been smart and caught it early.
"So what's next?" I inquired.
"Surgery. We need to remove the testicle immediately. We can probably get you in tomorrow."
Double wow. Not only had I upgraded to cancer patient, I was also further promoted to surgery patient. Honestly, it was a lot to process. I told him I couldn't commit to surgery tomorrow and needed some time to think. I also wanted to talk to Mallory (my fiancé) because I had stupidly told her not to come with me to the appointment. He totally understood, but reiterated I had to move fast.
At this point, I knew surgery was inevitable and necessary, but it was still a lot to process. I cried during this time. I don't cry often. I can count on one hand the amount of times I've cried in the past five years. It was a lot to handle quickly and it kind of buildup.
After deciding to go forward with the surgery, I called the office back, but, of course, it was already closed. The following morning, they called back and the surgery was scheduled for the following day, marking almost exactly one week since I first saw a doctor.