Let’s talk testicles for a moment
First Posted: 4/13/2015
Did you know April is Testicular Cancer Awareness month?
Probably not, right?
Everyone seems to know that ESPN reporter Britt McHenry is a total bitch who berated a towing company clerk with missing teeth, but they don’t know that according to the National Cancer Institute, an estimated 8,430 men will be diagnosed with testicular cancer — 380 of which will die — in the United States this year.
Think about this: When was the last time you had a serious conversation about testicles? Have you ever had a serious conversation about testicles?
Weekender decided to go balls — or ball — to the wall and have that uncomfortable conversation to raise awareness. We spoke with survivor Wayne Morgan of Dallas who, at 26-years-old, was told he had a 40 percent chance of surviving stage-three high-risk testicular cancer. His story shouldn’t scare you, though, because according to Dr. John Danella, Director of Urology at Geisinger Health System, testicular cancer is “very curable, even in high stages.” And with the help of Danella and Testicular Cancer Society founder Mike Craycraft, we’re letting you know exactly how and when you should touch your balls for early detection of abnormalities in your scrotum.
‘I’M A SURV1VR’
Morgan laughed playfully as he recalled a time when a friend teased him about his beard.
“He told me that my beard was weak,” Morgan said. “I said, ‘Oh, yeah? You try growing a beard with one testicle.”
Morgan said people don’t know what to do when he makes a joke about testicles.
“I’m a testicular cancer survivor and they know it, so they’re like, ‘Can I laugh at a cancer joke?’ But also, because I’ve been a youth pastor, they’re like, ‘Can I laugh at that type of a joke from a youth pastor? He just said something about nuts,’” he said.
As nuts as it may sound — no pun intended —Morgan said he believes it can actually be a good thing to joke about cancer — to a certain extent. “It raises awareness,” Morgan said, adding the disease needs all of the awareness it can get.
“I think breast cancer is a sexy cancer. It’s very easy to talk about with how many people have it and the fact that both guys and girls will talk about that area of the body in some sort of way,” Morgan said. “It’s at least within the bounds of acceptable conversation. No guy is going to come up to his friends and say, ‘Hey, I have a lump on my ball.’ It’s an awkward conversation to have.”
Morgan had that delicate conversation in April 2006. He was 26 years old; a husband to his wife, Karen; a father to two children: three-year-old daughter Querida and one-year-old son Taylor. Cancer was the last thing on his mind.
“I was having soreness in the groin area. I had just bought a motorcycle, so I thought I was riding maybe a little too much. But when I found a lump, I went to the doctor,” Morgan said. “He said if it was cancer it would have hard edges. He said it was my choice to get it checked out more or not, but he said it was probably not cancer.”
He refrained further examination out of humiliation.
“It was embarrassing to talk about it, because you don’t talk politely about that in mixed company. You don’t talk about testicles. Guys don’t talk about being healthy down there.” Morgan said. “So I took the doctor’s professional opinion. It gave me the escape route.”
Neglecting further examination took balls — one specifically.
“Fast forward a couple months — this is crazy — my nipples started to get tender; like super sensitive. They started to bloat,” Morgan said.
The youth pastor’s nipple sensitivity was accompanied with extreme pain in his lower back.
“I grew up with that jock mentality of pushing through the pain. I played basketball in high school and college; and soccer in high school. I always pushed through the pain,” Morgan said. “But this was pain you didn’t push through.”
In November 2006, Morgan sought medical attention and discovered the pain in his groin was testicular cancer. And, it had spread throughout his body. “It had spread from my testicle to the lymph node system. One lymph node attached itself around my left kidney. Then it went from my lymph node system to my lungs; and it went from my lungs to my liver,” Morgan recalled.
And the nipple sensitivity was a hormonal side effect to testicular cancer that was preparing his body to produce milk for pregnancy, Morgan said. Wild, right?
Following diagnosis, Morgan endeavored a series of high-risk medical procedures in an effort to fight for his life, including an orchiectomy (removal of his left testicle); retro-peritoneal lymph node dissection (a procedure to remove abdominal lymph nodes); the removal of his left kidney and one-third of his liver; lung surgery; and chemotherapy.
“When the doctors said my hair would fall out from chemo, I had my three-year-old daughter shave my head so she wouldn’t be scared of me,” Morgan said. “And I lost all my hair. Literally. Nose hairs, eyebrows, arm hair. It was painful. My arm hair started to get really sore and I would pull on it and it would come out like I was a shedding dog. It was a weird experience.”
That weird experience strengthened the family bond, especially the vitality of his marriage.
“My wife was my advocate. She was my nurse; my insurance agent. She raised the awareness for me. She sent prayer updates to friends and family,” Morgan said.
Morgan’s cancer hit remission in August 2008. Today, Morgan said he lives in the present more than he did precancer; and takes any chance he can to share his ‘survivor story.’
“My license plate says SURV1VR. You’d be amazed the amount of conversations I have because of that plate. It raises the awareness,” Morgan said.
In 2012, his wife published “Morgan Update… Please Forward,” an assemblage of the emails she sent to friends and family throughout Morgan’s battle with cancer. Morgan said he wants the book to give hope to people experiencing a crisis while raising awareness for cancer. The book is available for purchase on Amazon and at Barnes and Noble in Wilkes-Barre.
Morgan acknowledges earlier detection, which he put off, could have drastically changed his story.
“I want people to know they shouldn’t be afraid to go to the doctor,” he said. “If you find something, don’t push through the pain; don’t brush it off. I’m the guy that pushed through the pain and I shouldn’t have done it.”
HOW TO CHECK YOUR BALLS FOR CANCER
If you’re a guy, you’re probably scared shitless right now about finding a lump on your balls. Dr. John Danella said you shouldn’t be.
“The chances [people who find a lump on their testicle] can be treated successfully is very high; but the longer they delay, the more treatment they will require and the less likely it is the treatment will be successful.”
Danella projects roughly 90 percent of testicular cancer patients are cured, including 75 percent of advanced cases with treatments such as chemotherapy.
The National Cancer Institute reports men between the ages of 15 to 34 are at the highest risk for the disease, but testicular cancer can be diagnosed at any age. Danella said predisposing factors exist, such as family history and being born with cryptorchidism (when testicles don’t naturally descend into the scrotum).
Now that you might be a little more relieved, how do you check yourself before you wreck yourself?
The answer is simple, Danella said.
“A testicular self-exam is probably best done in the shower because your skin becomes laxer,” he said. “Look for lumps. If you feel something you haven’t noticed before that seems different you should bring it to the attention of your primary care doctor.”
When Testicular Cancer Society founder and president Mike Craycraft was diagnosed in 2006, he said there were not many resources for guys with testicular cancer. The ones that were available were hard to find.
“I felt that my knowledge as a pharmacist and my experience as a survivor provided me with unique opportunities and talents to change the world of testicular cancer and help pave the road for future survivors,” he said.
Craycraft created a non-profit organization to unite survivors and raise awareness and helped uncomplicate self-exams by developing an app for that. The Testicular Cancer Society launched Ball Checker in 2014, a free, awareness-raising mobile app — found on iTunes, Google Play and BallChecker.com — that provides guys with facts about testicular cancer and the ability to set a reminder for monthly self exams.
So check your balls — and tell the men in your life to check theirs, too. A moment of awkwardness could save a life.