Thank you for Showing Me How I was Squandering My Life

by Justin BirckbichlerNovember 27, 2019View more posts from Justin Birckbichler

Dear Cancer,

While most people say you’re a terrible thing, I don’t always agree. Sure, you took a lot from me, including time, money, my sense of security, and my left testicle, but you also taught me a lot. Wondering if I was going to die at 25 really forced me to take a good, hard look at my life.

Prior to facing you down, I was involved in about ten different side projects. I was like a dog chasing a ball (little did I know I was about to lose one). If something sounded like it would be a cool idea, I went all in.

However, there are only 24 hours in a day. If I’m spending 8 of them sleeping and another 8 at work, that only leaves 8 hours for cooking, exercising, spending time with loved ones, and leisure time. The more projects I took on, the more quickly that 8 hours of freedom dwindled down as I poured myself into more and more random endeavors.

About halfway through chemo, I realized this. I made the decision to walk away from nearly all of these projects, which seemed hard at the time, but now, I am reaping the benefits. Ultimately, you get one shot at life (unless reincarnation is a thing, in which case I want to be a hawk or an eagle in my next life). I can’t spend all of my free time doing things that ultimately won’t have a lasting impact on my life while ignoring the people who love and support me.

Thank you, Cancer, for showing me how I was squandering my life.

The next lesson took a bit longer for me to realize. As a society, we’ve decided that men are not to show their feelings while women are painted as emotionally transparent. You showed me that I can’t afford to do that. I kept my emotions in before and during cancer. On the outside, I usually appeared to be calm and collected, but on the inside was a different story.

Internally, I was thinking about dying (even though the mortality rate from testicular cancer is low), the future, and various other worries, but I never shared that with the vast majority of people around me. I felt like I was already enough of a burden that I didn’t want to add more to anyone’s plate.

A bottle can only hold so much. When I would spiral into those thoughts, I would often snap about things that weren’t a big deal. When I realized this, I started trying to express how I was feeling and why that was. I turned to my doctor for anxiety medication and a therapist for help. To this day, it’s a work in progress and I am attempting to do better with expressing how I am feeling.

Thank you, Cancer, for showing me that it’s ok to be open and vulnerable.

Cancer, it’s been a while since we met, so here’s an update on what I’m doing with my life. Rather than spending my days involved in random projects, I write and am an advocate for men’s health through my blog, A Ballsy Sense of Tumor. One of my goals is for ABSOT to help others who have been diagnosed with testicular cancer to find the resource I wish I had when I first started treatment. 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’m hoping to fill that void and am happy when I hear that others have found it helpful.

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. Testicular cancer is not talked about enough in society. My hopes are that sharing my story from beginning to end with an open attitude will stimulate more open discussion and bring a larger focus to men’s health in general. Knowing someone who is going through cancer can help make it more real to men who might not otherwise be concerned about their own health.

Testicular cancer, and the associated terms such as balls, sack, nuts, and more, lend themselves nicely to puns and humor. It’d be a crime to not utilize them. Humor is a natural connector for people. In the words of Mary Poppins, it helps the medicine go down. Keeping it positive and light, while underscoring the seriousness, make conversation easier to swallow and more apt to be an actual conversation instead of a lecture. In summary, it’s sometimes hard to have such a stiff conversation, and it’s certainly not always a ball, but you would be a nut to not sack it up and do it.

This is a mission I would not have found without having faced you, Cancer, so thank you for being a catalyst.

Cancer, you changed my life… which is exactly the kind of thing you’d expect to hear from a cancer survivor. In a way, I’m fortunate to have learned these lessons at 25, instead of later in life.

I’ve found what’s important to me, and how to balance my emotions and cancer journey so I can rock this second shot at life. I would have preferred to learn this lesson by maybe losing my iPhone instead of a testicle, but cie la vie.

Sincerely,

Justin

PS – However, you do suck, Cancer.

Justin in remission

:-)