by Justin Birckbichler
I was diagnosed with Stage IIB Nonseminoma Testicular cancer in November 2016, at the ripe old age of 25. Along with surgery and chemo, I encountered the burden of the emotional journey that a cancer diagnosis includes.
Much to my wife’s chagrin, I’ve never been one to talk about my emotions. Blame it on society, my own stubbornness, or whatever other factor you want to point fingers at, but when it comes to my feelings, you’re not going to get much from me beyond “I’m fine.”
However, when I write things down, I am able to work through my feelings by recreating my experience on the screen and adding my own emotions to the story. Perhaps I feel more like I’m writing about a character than about myself, but this distance helps me to process my thoughts and feelings.
While I write to help process my own thoughts, I publish my words to help others. One of my goals is to help others who have been diagnosed with testicular cancer to find the resource I wish I had when I first started. I couldn’t find a patient-friendly resource that detailed the entire journey (from discovery to the struggles of survivorship) and was written from a twenty-something’s perspective. I wanted to fill that void and decided to develop a public blog.
When I began writing about my cancer journey, one of the first things I had to decide on was a title. It had to convey this blog was about testicular cancer and that I would be writing about it positively and with as much humor as possible. While cancer is no laughing matter, my outlook on life meant that this particular chapter in it had to be approached with humor and positivity. I initially debated calling it “The Cancer Chronicles,” but I felt that title wasn’t as on the ball as I desired. A Ballsy Sense of Tumor (or ABSOT as I usually refer to it) fit the bill perfectly.
While that’s one of the missions of ABSOT, the main goal is to open up lines of dialogue about testicular cancer and men’s health in general, such as in my recent post about enforcing the real meaning behind No Shave November. As I’ve moved into the survivorship phase of this cancer journey, I’ve found that promoting open communication has been the primary focus of my recent posts.
Seeing as that’s my main goal now, it may be surprising to hear that ABSOT wasn’t originally intended as a public work. Initially, it was a private Google Doc for me to process my thoughts. I began writing on the day after my first CT scan to catch up to all that had happened to me up until that point. Call it a premonition, but I had a feeling that the story was just beginning rather than ending. I’ve always felt that “The Post-Op” (which occurred after than CT scan) is one of my strongest pieces, as I wrote it in the heat of the moment, which is something that I’ve aimed to do ever since.
After writing that section of the Doc, it had surpassed 20 pages. I began sharing chapters (which I was calling “stages” at that point, as a first sign of twisted humor) with various friends and family members. Katie, who would later become my ABSOT Editor-In-Chief and partner, put it in my mind that I should make it public.
I went back and forth on the idea and finally decided to do it. However, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to out myself as having one testicle or keep that vague. If you’ve followed my blog and/or Instagram up to this point, you’ve probably guessed that I decided to bare it all (not literally).
I’m glad I did. I felt like I couldn’t be an advocate for men’s health and honest communication if I wasn’t being honest myself. Being a known Uniballer hasn’t negatively impacted my life in any way. If anything, it’s been improved, as people don’t have to feel uneasy around me not knowing if I am open about that fact or not.
If you’re facing your own testicular cancer journey, or any other life changing event, I recommend you begin writing it down. I wasn’t really a writing enthusiast before this, but now, I can’t seem to stop. I suppose writing roughly 55,000 words in a year will do that to you. That’s about half the length of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. JK Rowling, may I humbly suggest a spinoff novella – Harry Potter and the Self-Check Challenge?
Whether or not you share your cancer experience is entirely your business, but I’m glad I have all elements of my journey recorded in one place. I occasionally look back at old posts and find details I had forgotten (thanks chemo brain).
As ABSOT enters into its second year, I’m not sure in which direction it’ll go. I know I will have (thankfully) fewer medical-related events to write about but will still write as topics arise. However, the mission, humor, and goals of the blog remain important to me, and I will continue to share the good word of ABSOT as long as my domain has the balls to keep hosting me there.
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 2017, 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), or via email (email@example.com).