Skip to main content

My balls got an ultrasound.

My right testicle is pregnant with twins. The abortion is Wednesday. In other words, I have cancer.

You have no idea how badly I've been wanting to say that. "My balls got an ultrasound." It's hilarious. I was giggling inside even as I saw what is likely a pair of germ cell tumors snuggled up inside one of m'boys. More on that in a bit.

We've scheduled the surgery for next Wednesday. I'll be off my feet for a couple weeks and further recovering for another couple. Of course the timing is terrible.

Things were finally starting to fall into place. I'm working at a restaurant these days, some nights making more than I'd make for a whole week's labor at the store I was at before. At the end of this month I finally move out of my parents and closer to campus. I was about to start up yoga and swimming again in an effort to get toned and sexy again. School hadn't killed me; I managed all A's for the semester. I was also gearing up to pursue my writing, finally, and make something of it. I was at relative peace with things, albeit dealing with the usual sorts of stresses you'd imagine. 

And then that lump on my ball had to go and be cancerous, or probably cancerous. (The urologist said, having reviewed the ultrasound report, "From what I'm seeing, and until proven otherwise, I'm going to go ahead and assume it is cancerous and advise surgery as soon as possible.")

I've known about this lump--now lumps, plural, I suppose--for a while. I discovered them after an otherwise unspectacular beat off session back around Christmas. Best present ever.

Of course I was terrified. And if you know me at all, or read my blogs at all, you know when I'm terrified about something I run from it and hide. Over the last couple of months I alternated between occasional fits of neurotic self-inspection and obsessive research--about every possible cause but the scary one. Because it couldn't be the scary one. I'm too young for cancer. I haven't done anything with my life yet.

But each of those other possibilities--epididymitis, varicocele, spermatocele, and so on--fell away and seemed less and less likely, I gradually faced the scary possibility. Not directly of course; not at first. I had up to that point told absolutely no one. My plan became that after finals, as they were by then approaching, I would start telling people and see my doctor. 

And that's how I ended up at the ultrasound. Watching on the screen how the curious mass extended into the actual testis. I'd nerded out enough in my research to know that, really, none of the other possibilities did that. Really, it was over as soon as it wasn't a hollow, hollow-black form hugging the back of the testicle, as a spermatocele--my last hope--would likely do. It was a complex structure; dark with lighter spindly bits & layers in it. It was entwined with a brother. I had noticed over the intervening months that the lump seemed to feel different. Now I knew why: It had sprouted a sibling.

The scariest part was when the technician checked more specific features. Like blood flow. She did a comparison scan over the left testis, the one that's pristinely, evenly light grey with maybe a tiny pocket here and there of black but, even as manual inspection could tell you, nice and healthy and entirely unalarming. Some of those pockets had a bit of red/blue coloring when she scanned for bloodflow. Normal; testes are organs, they need some blood flowing about to function and live. Then back to the right. Oh, the right. Heavy reds and blues all around the lumps. Strong bloodflow, unnecessary in a normal, healthy testicle, as the left had demonstrated. And it was all concentrated on these mystery masses.

But then she checked for a heartbeat. I don't know why except to scare me. These strangers in my testicle had a heartbeat; I know it was only the sound of my own heart conveyed by the bloodflow feeding the masses. But hearing it blasting from the speakers of the machine, loud and distinct and definitely pulsing with life, I couldn't help feeling alive, and a bit besieged.

It's alive. Something is alive in me.

In the week since, everyone I've told has tried to comfort me with at least one of the same lines of reasoning: Well, you don't actually know it's cancer.

I smile, politely, and agree that point is entirely valid. But also point out there's not much else it can be.

I do not tell them, though, what I am thinking. You did not see it. You did not hear your heart beat resounding as these things sat there sedate and menacing. You did not see how discrete their structure, the pair of them, the microcalcifications, how foreign they obviously were and how tucked away, at home and abnormal. You did not hear it.

I have spent the last few months, even when I was pointedly refusing to accept the possibility of cancer, accepting the fact that I am mortal, I am organic, that medical things do happen to people and they can happen to me. This notion has made it easier to transition to acceptance of my cancer. It's not unfair; it's just life.

But there were still dark times in those few days after the ultrasound. Not dark because they were evil or bad, but because of all the unknowns and uncertainties. In some ways they're worse than an outright evil; you can battle villains, but you can't even understand an uncertainty. It's entirely out of your control. And that word echoing harshly among the concepts infusing consciousness--cancer, cancer, cancer. Sometimes it was all I could do to keep from crying right there in the middle of a shift at the restaurant; sometimes the breath would stop in me and the hot tears bubbled up, and I'd have to grab something for certainty and fight back the urges.

I told a few coworkers in case I did have some kind of meltdown and needed an emergency hug or something. I reflected on positivity; on so called "nocebo" effects, on how it couldn't hurt to stay hopeful. Some of them pointed out how treatable testicular cancer is, which I knew but hadn't been able to incorporate because, let's face it, it's fucking cancer.

It made realize that I still hadn't researched the "scary thing"; I'd made a study of spermatoceles and epididymitis and so on, but still hadn't been willing to look up testicular cancer. Or cancer itself, really.

Until recently my only knowledge of cancer was flawed and unscrutinized. There were basically two stages. First, the original cancer. Second, waiting for it to come back, because it always did, metasticized and lethal.

So I looked it all up. Even on the day of the ultrasound, I began reading about metastasis, lymph nodes, and so on. By the weekend I had the nerve to read about germ cell tumors and testicular cancer. Treatment of testicular cancer considered a success story of modern medicine, it says. Chemo rarely needed, it says. Survival rates of 96 to 100% in most cases, and still at least 80 to 90% in metastatic disease, it says.

Well fuck.

What I failed to do was turn this over. I remained willful--decided I couldn't let it be cancer, as if I had a choice--and didn't deal with it. I put it off.

After the ultrasound, I called my AA sponsor. He pointed out, as I think he had before, what an important 3rd step process this was; how relevant the serenity prayer.

God, give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

It's even more so now. In most cases, the surgery is followed by a few years of surveillance to see if the cancer has spread. If it has, a highly effective, well-targeted chemotherapy regimen is begun.

It's about follow through. As we say in AA, doing the next right thing.

Yesterday I saw my urologist; he offered surgery on Wednesday and I easily accepted. No hemming and hawing about work or needing to figure out transportation as I usually might do; this is surgery, this is cancer, I need to turn this over to a higher power be it God or my doctor or whoever or whatever, and do what comes next. Work will understand; transportation will be arranged. I don't need to control this anymore. I just need to let go and keep on keeping on.

And you know something? I can't say I've had a bad moment since. Not since I investigated testicular cancer or made a plan, not since I accepted that this just is and the only thing to do is put one foot in front of the other, not since any of that have I wanted to cry about this or hide away.

I've also (re)realized something else: My life is precious; I can't waste it, however much of it I have left. Whether I change the world or just help my friends in little ways, I need to keep on putting one foot in front of the other and make my time here as fulfilling as possible.

I've wasted so much time getting here, but it's okay. This cancer is not the end of me. Even if it kills me, I still have time, and it's how I use that time, the time left, that counts, not how I've used or wasted it in the past.


Other things that might interest you...

QP: Changes to come, I hope.

My grandmother passed away about 2 weeks ago. I hope to write about her more soon, but for this moment, I want to speak briefly about where I'm at overall: Her passing has led me to reevaluate aspects of my life because I'm realizing that the status quo amounts to just wasting my life away. (This is another "quick post," which means it's a short update that I likely didn't edit and revise quite as much as the more "thoughtful" pieces I aim for. I say this because I'm self-conscious and worry that you, my reader, will judge me!) I'm up in Boston and have today and tomorrow off, and I want to spend at least a portion of each day figuring out (some of) my life. I say this fully aware how often I've variously done so before: asserted a need for change, described how I was going to do it, made an attempt, then fallen off in the follow-through. I'm honestly not sure what to do about that, though. It frustrates me now just as much as eve

This moment: A tattoo.

So I read Mrs. Dalloway in high school, and it was perhaps the most beautiful thing I'd ever read. One passage in particular, very early in the book, hit me hard with my first experience of the sublime, and stayed with me—and led at last to my first tattoo. In people’s eyes, in the swing, tramp, and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment of June .  ( Emphasis added; full paragraph included below. From the full text of the novel as made available by the University of Adelaide. ) The paragraph this is from, the 4th paragraph of the novel, is the 1st passage with the stream of consciousness the book is famous for; although self-limited here, the flow is no less gorgeous. In the passage, Clarissa is walking on a street to get those famous fl

Sarracenia 'Ennui.'

I mentioned in a recent post  that even hybrids of the same species can demonstrate disparate variety. Which is the case with the other cultivar I discovered. Yes; there's another. I could go into how this variety among hybrids should surprise no one, but I'm not here to teach you genetics (poorly). No, I want to talk about my other big cultivar-related excitement: Sarracenia 'Ennui,' or so it's being called for now. I guess it's semiofficial now that I've "announced" it in a blog post. Welp. (My main hesitation in calling it this is that the name may already been claimed. But I think it's an  awesome  name for a plant and peculiarly kind of perfect for this one: It's got this muted glamour that feels not only somehow French but also weirdly existential...?) I found this beauty at Meadowview Biological Research Station . The other half of the main plant can still be found there, by the way, and that nursery has a gorgeous array of o