Meet testicular cancer student, Justin Birckbichler!
Name: Justin Birckbichler
Age at Enrollment: 25
Major: Stage IIB Nonseminoma Testicular Cancer
What were the primary symptoms you experienced prior to diagnosis? No symptoms other than discovering a lump, which is the terrifying part. I was otherwise very healthy and medically boring up to this point.
What symptom(s) lead you to go to the doctor? While performing a routine self-check, I discovered a lump in my left testicle. Initially, I put off seeing a doctor because of the stigma associated with men taking action when it comes to their health. However, when the lump increased in size and intensity, I knew I couldn’t put it off any longer.
Courses completed: In October 2016, I had a radical orchiectomy (a surgery that removed my left testicle completely) in an effort to remove the cancer completely. Post-surgery, a CT scan revealed that cancer had spread to my lymph nodes, which meant that I needed to receive chemotherapy. I am currently finishing the last of 3 three-week cycles of chemotherapy, which I started right after Thanksgiving. My planned last day of chemo is January 30, 2017, with CT scans to follow in late February/early March.
What was your hardest moment and how did you you get through it? Honestly, the hardest part was when the doctor told me they would need to remove a testicle. I was prepared to hear I had cancer but not ready to accept that. Although I knew it would have no effect biologically on me, it’s still not easy to accept that you’ll be one half of what used to be a full sack for the rest of your life. I talked with my fiancée about it, and, despite my reluctance, we realized the surgery was medically necessary. It was the smartest choice, although not what I wanted. I eventually came to terms with losing my testicle, but I couldn’t bring myself to look below the belt for the first few days after surgery. Now, I can joke about it - I just need to stay on the ball.
Any helpful (tangible) tips or tricks you discovered for dealing with your symptoms and/or cancer? First, men, if you feel a lump in your testicles, get checked. It’s awkward and uncomfortable, but do it. It could save your life. Second, one good way I have found to deal with cancer is to write about it. Originally, I was writing for myself, but then I decided to publish my story. My hopes are that my blog helps others. I am not a very outwardly or verbally emotional person, so this helps me cope. Finally, for those going through chemotherapy, be honest with your doctor about side effects. They can prescribe you many different medicines to make you comfortable.
How did you find joy during this experience? The biggest joy I have is when I can be independent. I rely on my fiancée, my mom, and doctors a lot, and I am grateful for them, but I enjoy moments when I can be alone and do what I want, whether that is watch TV, surf the Internet, snuggle with my cat, or just think. Being able to cook a meal or clean up a room is empowering, and I normally hate cleaning. Keeping a positive outlook, but also being real about symptoms and how cancer frankly sucks, has been helpful too.
Did you learn anything about yourself? If so, what was it? I learned that I am stronger than I thought. That seems like a cliche thing to say, but I really have surprised myself. I haven’t had many “why me” moments, and I keep my eye on the prize. I am focused on beating this and spreading awareness to others. I also learned what was important to me. As soon as I got my diagnosis, a lot of things were put into perspective. I used to invest my time in side projects that I didn't feel 100% committed to, but I realized that my time is valuable and I should focus on what's important.