Connor O’Leary was a nineteen year old professional cyclist competing in Europe when he discovered a lump on his testicle. As an advocate for AYA cancer awareness since my own daughter was diagnosed with cancer in 1997, I was stunned at how little I knew about testicular cancer and the men living with it. I needed to learn more. I needed to go to the source. My editor, Karen Irwin at CKN agreed and the idea for the TC Cancer Series was born.
Connor was one of the men I invited to join me for breakfast in Denver, Colorado while we were attending Stupid Cancer’s CancerCon 2017 Conference, to discuss the short and long term effects of living with a testicular cancer diagnosis. When Connor told me, “Nineteen year olds don’t want to talk about their parts to their mothers,” I knew that Connor would offer an important perspective to the series. What follows is my interview with Connor, testicular cancer survivor and Chief Mission Officer for the Testicular Cancer Foundation.
Please give a brief account of how you discovered your cancer. Your age, treatment and follow up care.
I was diagnosed at 19. I was a professional cyclist living and racing in Europe, and I noticed a lump on my testicle. Not aware that I was even susceptible to testicular cancer at such a young age, I brushed it off, contributed it to a lot of time in the saddle and continued racing. The lump started getting bigger over the ensuing months, and I ultimately returned home many months later to see a urologist that diagnosed me with stage 2A Testicular Cancer. I immediately had surgery (Orchiectomy) and followed with 3 rounds of BEP Chemotherapy protocol.
At the age of 19 you feel like you are bulletproof. Prior to my diagnosis I thought I was invincible. I was healthy, fit, and active, and thought there was no way something like cancer could effect me. I think that is what is scary with the disease. We are dealing with a cancer that most commonly affects young males (ages 15-34), that are not tuned into their bodies, or who are too embarrassed to talk about their balls. We need to break down the stigma associated with this disease, educate men, parents, and the general public. We should not be losing a man to a disease that is 98% beatable when caught early.
Did you preserve sperm?
I did preserve sperm thanks to my mother. When you are 19, you really aren’t thinking about kids, or about your future wife, and it was extremely awkward to have your mother force you to a sperm bank… multiple times, but in hindsight I am glad that I did. I am grateful that my doctors gave me the option to bank sperm prior to treatment, and for my parents to have the foresight to force me to do it.
I have spoken with multiple survivors who were not made aware that sperm banking is something they should consider. This is a serious topic that needs to be addressed to every man diagnosed with TC.
Have you noticed any post treatment symptoms that you would attribute to hormone issues?
Not particularly, I feel lucky. I know for many guys this is a serious issue.
At our breakfast meeting we also joked about the comfort of one or no testicles post treatment.
I personally don’t find any discomfort in only having one testicle…. In fact, it is probably more comfortable. More room down below doesn’t hurt, and less nuts and bolts to get banged around.
We discussed body image and sex after treatment- any dysfunction emotionally or physically? Any anxiety when resuming intimacy with a partner or new date?
For me, this was not an issue. I do know there are men that are extremely self conscious about only having one testicle (or no testicles), and that is ok, but for me this is not the case. Having one testicle does not make me feel any less like a man, and if a woman has an issue with only one testicle, she is not worth my time.
Were you ever concerned about your bike racing performance post surgery?
Absolutely. With losing a testicle, there was concern about a drop in testosterone levels, which is a huge component to excelling in cycling. I was lucky enough to return to the top of the sport and race professionally after my treatment. Although there was a slight drop in my testosterone, my levels did fall within a normal range, and I have been able to function and live a healthy life without any testosterone therapy needed.
Have you needed any follow-up care post treatment issues? Physical? Emotional? Mental health?
I think depression and learning to cope with the “new normal” is a very real issue, and is something that is not addressed nearly enough. After treatment is completed, they send you on your way. They really don’t address the issues, or give you the tools you need post treatment.
I had a hard time adjusting post treatment. I’d been on this roller coaster for the last 6 months, and was just expected to resume life like nothing had happened. I jumped back into school, started trying to get back to cycling, among other pursuits. There was so much that happened so fast, and I had a hard time processing all of it. What helped me the most was talking to other men who had been through the disease and could relate first hand to the emotions and experience I was dealing with. The Testicular Cancer Foundation has a great program that gives you access to other survivors who can help guide you through the process.
Thank you for participating in CKN Testicular Cancer Series, Connor!
Helping to shed light on this disease and spreading awareness and education about these important topics is extremely important.
Survivor / Chief Mission Officer
Testicular Cancer Foundation