Who exactly are you?
My name is Justin Birckbichler. I’m a pretty average guy who relocated to Virginia after living in Pennsylvania for 22 years. I’m white, in my twenties, slightly above average in height and weight, have brown, spiked hair and blue eyes, and have a tendency to wear sleeveless shirts and shorts year round. I’ve been a fourth grade teacher since 2013 and am one of those cliche “I love teaching so much” people, although it’s unique that I’m a guy in an elementary school.
What’s your connection to testicular cancer?
I was diagnosed with Stage IIB Nonseminoma cancer in November 2016. It's a form of testicular cancer that spread to my lymph nodes. I had surgery to remove the original mass and my affected testicle on October 28th, started chemotherapy on November 28th to get rid of the remaining cancerous cells, and completed it in January 2017. In March, my doctor told me I was in remission, and as of my latest scan in June, I still am.
What was your life like before November 2016?
2016 was an amazing year. In January, I was accepted to the first Google for Education Certified Innovator Academy and got to actually visit the Googleplex in Mountain View, California the following month. February was also the month I got engaged! Two days shy of our two year anniversary, I proposed to Mallory, my then-girlfriend. We bought our first home in July and relocated to an absolutely incredible area of Virginia. Soon thereafter, we picked out a cute Yorkie puppy to join our family, along with our cat.
In addition to having a great first ten months of 2016, I had 25 years of having the most boring medical history ever. I had scoliosis for a few years, but it stabilized. I battled with depression in high school but survived that. I’ve had some cavities filled and my wisdom teeth removed. I suffered a mild concussion once when I took a tumble on a snowboarding trip. I am colorblind, but that hasn’t changed at all in the past few years.
I was the picture of health and always got the cheapest health insurance with the least amount of coverage. I only happened to upgrade it in my new school district because it was cheaper than the minimum coverage in my previous district.
Why did you start ABSOT?
Simply put, when I was diagnosed, I had a hard time finding information written in patient friendly terms about experiencing testicular cancer. There were a lot of clinical websites, but nothing easily digestible or relatable. I wanted to create a resource that would be helpful for a person going through what I went through.
That was my original intention, but soon after starting the blog, my main focus shifted. 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. I put my face where their balls are (which is a somewhat awkward turn of phrase).
Why this particular title?
The title was always important to me. It had to convey that my blog was about testicular cancer and that I would be talking about it in as positively and with as much humor as you can use when discussing cancer. While cancer is no laughing matter, my method is to approach it with humor and positivity.
What do PCL, CC, HBA, and TBT mean?
Post Cancer Life (PCL) posts are about life after chemo and my new identity as a survivor.
Chemo Chronicles (CC) are about my experiences with chemotherapy and general musings about life as a cancer patient undergoing chemo.
Throwback Thursday (TBT) posts travel back to the beginning of my story from the initial discovery up until the beginning of chemotherapy.
Healthy But Aware (HBA) posts are thoughts from my close friends and family about how my diagnosisaffected them.
Some of your posts talk about physical and mental setbacks during chemo. How did you manage to continue running ABSOT?
When I decided tostart ABSOT, I reached out to my friend, Katie Kraushaar (who is an English teacher extraordinaire, to help me edit the blog pieces, in addition to sometimes posting and promoting them on social media. These are all my words, but she helps me sound better. I also knew that as I started chemo, I wouldn’t be able to keep up with it by myself. Her support from the start of this journey has been invaluable.
What’s the timeline of your story?
To really get the full picture, I urge you to read the whole blog. However, I understand that it’s a lot of posts, so here’s an abridged version:
October 8, 2016 - I happened to do a self-check of my testicles and found a lump.
October 18 - I called a doctor.
October 20 - At the appointment, the doctor told me I needed an ultrasound.
October 24 - I got an ultrasound and was then referred to a urologist.
October 26 - I met with an urologist. He told me I probably had cancer.
October 28 - I had a surgery to remove my testicle to be biopsied.
November 7 - I had my post-op appointment. I was told the cancer had spread and that I needed chemo.
November 10 - I met with the oncologist, who set up a treatment plan.
November 18 - I had my chemo port implanted.
November 21 - I left work for extended medical leave.
November 28 - I began 9 weeks of chemotherapy.
January 30, 2017 - I finished my treatments. I rang the bell signifying the end of this stage in my journey and went home for a few weeks of recovery.
February 21 - I returned to work.
February 25 - I had a CT to see if the chemo was effective.
March 2 - I again met with the oncologist to go over the results of the CT scan. I was officially put in remission status.
June 10 - I had another CT scan for 3 month later check in.
June 12 - I met with the oncologist to go over the CT results. No new growth - still in remission.
June 21 - I had my chemo port removed.