A year ago I was getting ready to travel across the United States with my wife and two young kids. At that point, six weeks in a car was easily the craziest thing I’d thought would happen to us last year. Not to mention coming home to… well… no home. Not a permanent one at least. Also, no job and hardly any savings left to live off. Leaving behind a job I was unhappy with and a feeling of stagnation that was weighing over our family, I knew the year of changes would start with that trip. My hope was that when we returned we could slip back into a life full of meaning and love. And while the transition was relatively easy, the one thing I never expected, Just as no one expects it, is getting cancer.
We say “getting cancer” because cancer is something nobody ever wants to receive. As a society, we “buy cars”, “accept gifts”, “acquire gold”, and “get cancer.” You “get cancer” because it’s not something you want, need or will benefit you in any way. I could expunge on the facts of receiving the news or how cancer affects families. I could explain away fear and uncertainty. I really could. There’s really only two aspects of cancer that really affect a person: Who we are before cancer and who we are after cancer.
I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Leading up to the diagnosis, my left testicle had been feeling very weird. There’s no other word for it. I’m an avid runner and I was finding my crotch hurting after every run.I should stop here and say that for the rest of the article I will be mentioning the manhood that previously and currently resides between my legs. Consider yourselves warned.
As someone that lives in denial, I didn’t want to visit a doctor. At first, I didn’t want anyone jumbling my junk around and being uncomfortable. After a while, I was embarrassed because there was something obviously wrong with my testicle. Seeing it at four times the size it should have been, a serious lack of sex drive and a constant dull pain was what finally overran my stubbornness and led me into the ER.
The cancer diagnosis was bad enough. The fact that I would be losing at least one testicle made it worse. As a man, I identify with my masculinity. I can lose weight faster than my wife, I can grow a better beard than her too. But before I lost a testicle, I assumed the traits that make me a man came from them.I assumed the social attributes were the same as the biological. We are men because testosterone is made at the testicles and flows through us allowing us to grunt and throw stuff. Do you think our cave man ancestors grabbed their junk after a major hunting session? You bet your ass they did.
So what then if I lost my testicles? What would I be? Would I be less of a man with only one? If I were to buy a big truck and hang a set of balls the back would I only be able to hang one? (I will never buy a big truck and won’t even entertain the idea of hanging a set of balls off my Toyota corolla…but the wonder is still there)
Having one less testicle doesn’t mean I’m any less masculine. Not to me at least. I’ve had to prove that to myself. In a post-surgery slight depression, I did feel like I wouldn’t be the same. Slumped over my wife (Which had to be hilarious as she’s a good half a foot shorter than me) as she helped me walk, I wondered if I’d be able to run as fast or as far as I could with both working testicles. The toll that cancer and surgery have on your health and state of mind is absolutely unbelievable. One minute we are strong individuals; the next we are literally taken to our knees by some cells that decided to grow way out of control. And as I struggled up our walkway, all I could think of was the after surgery. Because after surgery, there’s a chance you need more surgery. And Chemo. And radiation. And then after all that, what would the shell of my body look like? I watched my grandfather transform into someone unrecognizable during his chemo treatment. The sickness that is cancer doesn’t just hurt us and kill us. It takes away who we are as people. It makes us less. and if we let it, it will destroy our inner being. it will eat away at the indescribable thing that makes us human. If we let it.
Yes, there is the very real aspect of cancer where it will kill us. But that’s why modern medicine is so amazing. Just the other day my oncologist told me that in the 1970’s the mortality rate of testicular cancer was 100%. That means in 30 years doctors and researchers have gotten their shit together and started figuring this shit out.
With the surgery, with each passing day, I’m returning back to myself. The healing from the actual surgery took about a month. The psychological healing is still in effect.
While I’ve never been the picture of masculinity, I don’t feel like any less of a man even with one testicle. This can be a struggle though. I have to decide daily what I want to put my body and my mind through. There’s an after thought I have sometimes “Would I have done this before I had cancer?” “Can I still do this?”
Yes. The answer is always yes.
To me, masculinity is about what you can do with your mind as well as your body. It’s about discipline, respect and knowledge. We are masculine not because we think we are, we are masculine because we are always striving toward something better. Every man can have a different definition for themselves but I know what they all have in common: goals.
Whether it be to read more, grunt more, learn more, lift more love more or respect more; it’s about goals. Masculinity is about wanting more.
Our masculinity should never be measured by comparing ourselves to women or to each other as men. Our masculinity is compared only against ourselves.
What was easily the scariest moment of my life and the closest to death I’ve ever come, I had my left testicle and all its chords (bits and pieces) surgically removed. There’s still a chance it could spread to my other testicle as well as other organs in my body. For that fact, I continue to flex my masculinity, to strive more and more before its too late. Losing another testicle would mean hormone therapy and an array of emotions I’m not ready to acknowledge. But it wouldn’t stop me. It wouldn’t impede my goals of a seven-minute mile. It would never stop me from loving my family and gathering the most I can out of this awkward life. Only when I accept complete and utter complacency from life, is when I lose what it feels like to be masculine.