Tuesday, March 27, 2018

BOB01: Ken Lane - #Takea2nd4theBoys

Ken Lane's #Takea2nd4theBoys Testicular Cancer Awareness Campaign Will Keep Your Self-Exam as a Recurring Event

Welcome to the Band of Ballers! In this series on ABSOT, I’m turning over control to some other ballsy testicular cancer survivors and patients who have inspired me with their work in advocacy and awareness during and after their diagnosis.

This month’s feature is all about Ken Lane, who created the #Takea2nd4theBoys campaign, which you can also learn more about on this page on ABSOT. Enjoy his story and his mission!

The beginning of my testicular cancer journey

In order tell the story of my 2017 bout with testicular cancer, I have to go back to about 2013. To set the scene, I was just coming off of a divorce that completely blindsided me. To make matters worse, I decided to shield myself from the emotional pain by doing the next plausible thing -- becoming a hypochondriac. Before I knew it, every ache, every pain, every funny sensation was the first symptom of my impending death. Even though I was sure in my mind that something was probably wrong, nothing was bad enough to warrant going to the doctor...until one fateful day.

Ken's selfie game is on point -
must be a Uniballer thing
It was around this time that I heard an online PSA entitled "Do Your Testicles Feel Ok?" set to the tune of "Do Your Ears Hang Low?" The gist of the song was that if anything, anything at all about your testicles seemed weird to you, you should consult a doctor. After a self-exam, I noticed that my left testicle was substantially larger than my right one. Surely this would warrant a doctor's visit! After my primary care physician gave me a testicular exam, he concluded that there was nothing abnormal about my testicles and noted that it's actually rare for testicles to be the same size. After that visit, I started to acknowledge how psychologically unhealthy my own hypochondria was becoming.

Fast forward to 2017. By this time, I was married to the woman of my dreams, working in a great job for 2 years, and had just moved into an amazing new house -- everything was fantastic. During one of my routine testicular self-exams, I noticed something weird this time: my testicles were the same size. While there were no growths, no protrusions or pain, my once-smaller right testicle was now identical in size to my left...and much more firm.

Soon after that discovery, during a visit with my primary care physician about something unrelated to my testicles, I just casually brought it up at the end of the visit. He examined my testicles and said nothing seemed off about them. It wasn't until I told him that my right testicle used to be much smaller that further examination even came up. This prompted a referral to have a sonogram.

Fearing the worst

A week later, I had a sonogram that was followed by a phone call about an hour later -- a promptness that concerned me.

"Yeah, there's definitely a mass in your right testicle. It could be cancer. Fortunately, if it is cancer, it's highly treatable. I've referred you over to a urologist for further follow-up." As I hung up the phone, it was though someone had hooked up a delay effects pedal to the call and stomped on it as he said "cancer." "Cancer...cancer...cancer...cancer..." seemed to reverberate around in my head.

Ken and his urologist
The following day, I met with a urologist who even entered the room with a grimace.

"I saw your scan. Man, you must be in a lot of pain."

"No. It feels a little heavier, but it doesn't hurt."

"Really? Then why did you bring it up to your doctor?"

"Because that testicle used to be smaller. Now it's the same size as the left one."

This seemed to make the urologist need to quickly regroup.

"Well, fortunately, the mass seems to be completely contained within the testicle. The next step is to remove it for further diagnosis. We'll know a week later how severe this could possibly be."

The orchiectomy (testicle removal surgery) a few days later went great, and the recovery was not that bad. The worst part of that week of recovery was not pain, but the sleepless nights of wondering how bad this may be. My mind flooded with questions. Is this cancer? Is it aggressive? Has it spread anywhere else? How much time do I have left? How will this affect my wife? Will she be ok? I kept having a mental picture of her, alone, feeding our cat that I had had long before we started dating. Would this cat just be a painful reminder of me every day? Needless to say, it was a long, weird week.

A week that felt like a month had come and gone. The results were in: positive for cancer, but it was a non-aggressive seminoma with no sign of malignancy in the spermatic cord. In other words, the chances that it had spread were extremely low. While I still had standard surveillance via CT scans, chest x-rays, and blood tests, I would not require any additional treatment. A huge wave of relief washed over me.

How I'm making a difference in testicular cancer awareness

Once I took a moment to regroup after recovering from surgery and receiving my very positive prognosis, I was forced to remember how I had been one of the fortunate ones to catch my cancer at such an incredibly early stage. The reason? I was extremely familiar with my testicles due to years of self-exams. Sadly, many men don't even know that they need to be checking their testicles for abnormalities and those that do, by and large, don't know what to look for.

I've told this story many times to many people. In the weeks following my surgery, it seems like almost every male friend wanted to know more, specifically about how they could take preventative measures against testicular cancer for themselves. Beyond telling them "remember to give yourself an exam in the shower every month," I would find myself saying "set a recurring event on your calendar every month to remind you to do a self-exam in the shower." I work in digital marketing, and one of my skills is website conversion optimization -- making it as easy as possible for a website visitor to do what you want them to do. This can mean signing up for a newsletter, visiting a product catalog, and the like. In the spirit of making things easier, I started the #takea2nd4theboys campaign to make adding this reminder to their own calendar and making a monthly self-exam a part of their lives.

The #takea2nd4theboys campaign simply seeks to make it easier for men to remember to take just a few seconds to perform a monthly testicular self-exam in the shower. Because most of us are rarely more than 10 feet from our smartphones, keeping a calendar is easier than ever to remind us of tasks we need to accomplish. The 2nd of every month was chosen simply to add a sense of consistency to the campaign. This allows men to remind their friends about performing a testicular self-exam.

At the #Takea2nd4theBoys page, there is a link that will create an event on someone's Google calendar to remind them to perform a testicular self-exam as well as information about how to perform a self-exam. Because testicular cancer is very treatable if caught early, hopefully, this campaign can help men keep themselves and others diligent in their self-exams to discover any abnormalities earlier for a much better prognosis in the future. Together, we can help keep each other accountable and save lives.

Many blessings,

- Ken

Be sure to connect with Ken by visiting him on Twitter (@kenlane918), on Facebook (@takea2nd4theboys), or on the Contact Page on the #Takea2nd4theBoys page.

Know someone (or even yourself!) who is supporting TC awareness and would be willing to share their story? Drop their name, contact, and why they should be featured into this Google Form and I’ll reach out to them and/or you!

Until next time, Carpe Scrotiem!

A self exam is how most cases of testicular cancer are detected early. Click the image for video directions or click here for a larger version

Click the ABSOT logo below to subscribe to the mailing list for the new blog posts, latest testicular cancer information, and self exam reminders!


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ABSOT is endorsed by the Laughter Arts and Sciences Foundation, a registered 501.c.3 charity. To make a tax-deductible contribution to help help continue ABSOT's work with testicular cancer awareness and men's health, click the image below.

Friday, March 2, 2018

PCL25: My Definition of Surviving - One Year Later

My Definition of Surviving - One Year Later as A Cancer Survivor

March 2nd: Remission Day - the last of my “cancerversaries.”

It's been a year since I made the switch from patient to survivor. While I use survivor as a noun (mainly since it’s a lot easier to say that than “I had cancer last year but now I am in remission”), I never say "I survived cancer." The past tense is too final for me. Instead, l am surviving.

Surviving is...

Choosing to find the positive, even when you’re not feeling it.

A big tenet in how I approached life before cancer was to maintain a positive mindset. I even hosted weekly meetings at school to share out great moments from our week. When I was given a cancer diagnosis, I decided to do the same. Nurse Jenn even noted it in a card she gave me at the end of chemo, writing “You were handed a tough regimen but you were always positive and even when vomiting you were laughing and making a joke.”

Becoming a survivor was a new and equally trying experience. Some days, I was really down in the dumps about how overwhelmed I was feeling about balancing going back to work and also understanding what I had just faced.

A few months into remission, I remember actually thinking that having cancer was easier than facing life. Immediately, I was horrified by this thought and examined why that it had occurred to me. The answer was obvious - while I was feeling crappy, I got to lie around and watch movies all day and had no responsibility. I took that notion and turned it around. Lying around gets old after a few days. I now had the control and power to make my own choices and choose to do what I wanted. Finding my negative thoughts and turning them into positives is something that has helped me keep my spirits up as I continue through this journey.

Recognizing that the physical healing is far easier than the emotional.

My physical healing was more or less complete by the six month mark post-chemo. Very few side effects lingered by then, and my only remaining one is my aversion to plain water. However, the emotional healing had just begun and continues to this day.

Cancer sucks, and recognizing that is a crucial part of the healing process. The outside can be repaired, but the inside takes more work in my opinion. It’s okay and normal. Keep working at it and know that you’ll make progress.

Making a commitment to fitness and healthy eating.

While physically healing is easier, getting back into shape takes work and effort. I was into fitness in college but dropped the ball once I became a real adult. On chemo, I gained ten pounds and a honeymoon in Hawaii only added to that. By August 2017, I was at my heaviest I’ve ever been - 215 pounds. At nearly six feet tall, this is teetering on overweight (and it was definitely not muscle mass that made up the weight). Similar to my approach to my mental health, I knew I had to take control of the situation and make changes. I started shifting to a healthier diet and increasing my activity level. By cooking more whole foods and working out for 30 minutes a few times a week, I’ve shed nearly 40 pounds since August.

Co-workers had commented that I’ve definitely lost weight and look good. My goal isn’t to just be physically where I was before cancer...I want to be better. I’m grabbing life by the ball(s) and making that happen.

Admitting that your mental health just isn't ok and you need help...

It’s equally critical to realize that asking for help about mental health is just as important. In December, I went on antidepressants to help combat feelings of depression. I was feeling down and needed help.

This was the first time I truly felt brave in my journey. I admitted to myself and others that I needed help and made it happen.

And following up when that help wasn't enough.

Even though I started on the medicine prescribed to me for my depression, initially, it didn’t help much. I had to advocate for myself and ask for a higher dose. The doctors agreed, and by late February, I felt tremendously better and continue to do so. Admitting that you need help is the first step - following up on that is equally important.

Proving that you have overcome chemo brain and don’t want to waste your brain power.

"All right, Lefty... Let's see how well 
connected you are..."
Artemis by Andy Weir
The loss of my mental capabilities due to chemo brain bothered me a lot, and I was determined to get them back. I eased my way into it, with reading shorter books and working my way up to longer ones. Last night, I finished 11/22/63, an 850-page Stephen King novel. I highly recommend the book to anyone who likes books about time travel, history, or the JFK assassination, but finishing the book represented more to me than just the bragging rights that come along with completing such a long book. This ridiculously thick book was given to me during chemo and it seemed like an impossible challenge then. Now, I’ve surpassed that seemingly-impossible challenge (in less than six days) and I’m ready to start on the next book.

Prior to cancer, most of my evenings were spent watching movies, playing video games, and endlessly scrolling through social media. Now, you can catch me reading, playing with Rubik’s Cubes (current record is just over one minute), and writing. I know what it’s like to truly veg out (not by choice), and I don’t want to waste that time anymore.

Setting goals, meeting them, and making new ones.

This ties in with the previous points about physical and mental healing. I constantly set fitness and reading goals and work to surpass them. At first, I wanted to run a mile in under ten minutes. When I met that, I wanted to do under nine minutes. Then, I added distance to my goal.

Similarly, I set book goals. I originally wanted to read 60 books in 2018, but now I’m aiming for 100. I’m currently at 23 and may need to up it again by the end of summer.

A cancer patient’s main goal is to beat cancer. Keeping that attitude after being given the all clear is important and makes sure you’re making the best of life.

Using your journey as a springboard for something more.

Best Text Ever
From the beginning, I’ve been sharing my story openly and honestly. I feel that it would be a wasted opportunity to not continue to use my journey as a talking point in a larger narrative about men’s health, and more recently, mental health. I know my journey has prompted other men to take their health more seriously, and that’s an amazing feeling.

If you’re facing cancer, share your story (if you’re comfortable) before, during, and after. It’s cathartic and will help others. If you need support, come check out the monthly App Chat on the Stupid Cancer app on the second Tuesday of the month at 8:00 PM EST. I hear the moderator is a pretty ballsy guy. (Spoiler - it’s me.)

Finding out who and what deserves your time.

I did an entire post on this over the summer (and a larger piece about friendships on The Mighty in the fall), but it’s among the most important lessons I learned as a survivor. Not everyone and everything is deserving of your time.

I spend way more time with the people (and pets) around me than I did before. On my educational blog in December, I shared about how writing about education just wasn’t something I was passionate about anymore, so I shifted it to the back burner (and then proceeded to write a post like a month later - way to go, Mr. B).

You need to figure out what matters to you and focus in on that. It may sound selfish, but I don’t think it is. Ultimately, your life is for you to enjoy to the fullest extent possible.

Knowing that you can genuinely say that you have a second shot at life.

At the end of the day, never forget that you stared death in the face, which is a super uplifting way to end a blog post! Most of the world doesn’t have that experience, but you know what it’s truly like to claw your way back from the other side.

You have a second shot at life - don’t waste it. These are my thoughts on the matter and what it means to truly be surviving. I’ve made some dramatic shifts in my life in the past year and have no intention of looking back.

So in a way, cancer, while you did take Lefty from me, you did do some good in my life. However, I’m still here a year later and you’re not. I guess we know who truly had the will to survive.

Author’s Note: I wasn’t originally planning to even write a blog post today. When I began drafting an Instagram post, I realized that I’d be remiss if I didn’t include this milestone. 1,500 words later, I realized I had more to say than an Insta-caption could cover. 

A self exam is how most cases of testicular cancer are detected early. Click the image for video directions or click here for a larger version

Click the ABSOT logo below to subscribe to the mailing list for the new blog posts, latest testicular cancer information, and self exam reminders!


Don't forget to follow and share ABSOT on social media by clicking the icons below!

ABSOT is endorsed by the Laughter Arts and Sciences Foundation, a registered 501.c.3 charity. To make a tax-deductible contribution to help help continue ABSOT's work with testicular cancer awareness and men's health, click the image below.