Friday, May 25, 2018

PCL30: Here We Grow by Paige Davis

Paige Davis's Here We Grow is a Great Guide to Mindfulness for All Affected by Cancer

Often times, when I get DMs from people I’ve never spoken to on Instagram, it’s usually someone who is offering to teach me how to mine for bitcoin, a Russian model who wants to accompany me to various locations in an unobtrusive manner (at least that’s what I think they mean by offering ‘discreet escort services’), or some other sort of spammer unrelated to cancer or testicles.

Luckily, this isn’t always the case. A few weeks ago, I received a DM from Paige Davis, a breast cancer survivor and the author of Here We Grow, a book about mindfulness while fighting cancer. She offered me a free advanced reader copy, and since I love free things, I said yes.

To be perfectly honest, I was skeptical when I read the back cover. I am not one to be into meditation, yoga, or anything of the sort. However, this book was not just a bunch of New Age mumbo jumbo. The following is an excerpt of the five-star review I left on Goodreads:

“I found myself glued to the book from start to finish and realizing more and more that I use a number of mindfulness practices in my own daily life.

Perhaps my favorite thing about this book was that it didn't take an 'either or' approach in regards to medical practice versus alternative healing. Rather, it was about joining the two, which I think is an important message to any cancer patient.”

Beyond that brief snippet, the following three big concepts, along with specific quotes, resonated with me while reading this book.

Take a cancer journey one day at a time

Be sure to snag your own copy!
“I am not naive; this will be a long journey. I want to celebrate the milestones of every step.”

Cancer can seem like a never-ending journey. Sometimes it literally lasts for years. In my case, active treatment lasted just over three months, but it involved chemotherapy nearly every single day. When I finished my first 10 (of 21 treatments) around Christmas 2016, I didn’t view it as “oh crap, I still have 11 to go.” I thought, “Whoa, we’re halfway there…. Whoaaaaa living on a prayer.”

“I just had major surgery; no one is expecting the impossible. I’m not doing this for [her]. I’m doing this for me. I need to know I can do this”

This part reminded me of when I had just had my orchiectomy and was determined to get up and walk a few days later. It was tough, but I had to prove to myself that I could do it… even if it was only walking around upstairs.

“I always assumed that fears were obstacles to be faced head on, but when it comes to situations with no tangible action to take, it’s a harsh reminder that I can’t control everything.”

I like to be in charge, but having testicular cancer definitely takes a lot of that away, in addition to your ball and your hair. I was at the mercy of my caregivers and medical team and had to give up control. It’s hard to accept that, but also a good reminder that letting someone else take the wheel isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Visualize chemotherapy as a good thing

“This is a love journey, and [he] encourages me to see the chemo as a powerful friend fueled by love and light, doing what it needs to do and then gently leaving my system so new cells can emerge.”

Most people would say chemotherapy sucks and it’s poisoning your body, but both Paige and I would beg to differ. Chemotherapy is a way to heal your body from cancer, albeit a very brutal one. While the side effects can be very overwhelming, Paige advocates to see chemotherapy as a friend rather than an enemy. That being said…

Flashback to when a Flipazoo was
just as good of a nausea deterrent
“Stay ahead of the pain, or in this case, the nausea."

Towards the end of my chemotherapy treatment, my nausea was really bad, to the point where I was best friends with a bucket for five days straight. I learned a valuable lesson then - make the anti-nausea pills a part of your routine. This stuck with me even after active treatment, when I still had latent feelings of quesiness. If you stay ahead of the game, you’ll stop (or at least lessen) the pain or nausea before it even begins.

Accept that change after cancer is inevitable

“While on one level I know that I am irrevocably changed, another part of me wants the change to be minimal and controllable. But these are unrealistic expectations.”

I’ve said this time and time again, but I am far from the same person as I was before testicular cancer, besides lacking my left testicle. I’m more motivated to make up for lost time and accept and embrace that. However, at first, I thought everything was going to go back to my regularly scheduled programming when I returned to work. This wasn’t the case, and if I had this book about a year ago I would have realized that not feeling normal was normal and my new normal would be normal now. Say normal one more time, Justin.

“I shifted my consciousness from one of doing and searching, from a place of fear and angst, to one of being and arriving at a place of stillness, connection, and listening to the deepest part of my soul.”

The changes I made in my life allowed me to stop acting like a dog chasing a ball (a pun I’ve used numerous times in my writing and will never stop) and settle on one purpose (and settle for having one ball). I know at my core, I want to dedicate myself and my work to connecting with other people to spread the good word of testicular cancer.

“The divine experiences of our lives keep propelling us forward on our journey to greater self-awareness and consciousness.”

This line speaks for itself… though I may include ‘testicular cancer awareness’ in addition to ‘self-awareness.’

Want your own copy of Here We Grow?

The easiest, and most guaranteed way is to purchase a copy through Amazon. It released on May 22nd, so if you order today and have Amazon Prime, you’ll have in two days (or less). It's probably available on other retailers too, but Amazon runs my life and I will submit to the overlords.

Finally, a thank you to Paige for giving me the opportunity to read and share my thoughts on this book. I recommend this book to any person touched by cancer (whether it’s as a patient, survivor, caregiver, loved one, or friend - so basically everyone in the world), as this is truly an inspiring and relatable guide for what they may be facing and what's to come. I’m looking forward to the day I write my book and get your feedback on it, though mine will contain a ridiculous amount of ball-themed puns!

Selected quotes from the book were used in this post with the author’s permission.

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, May 18, 2018

BOB03: Thomas Cantley/Mr. Ballsy - Big Ballsy Comics

Mr. Ballsy Wants to Help You Be on the Ball with Your Testicular Health with his Big Ballsy Comic Series

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 Thomas Cantley aka Mr. Ballsy, who is the creator of Big Ballsy Comics. Enjoy!

My name is Thomas Cantley AKA Mr. Ballsy. In November 2009, it was not all butterflies and rainbows for me. I was at my ultimate low... and you get the ballsy exclusive. I had drug issues and mental health problems. On top of it all, when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, I got cancer.

The beginning of my testicular cancer journey

I was so ignorant of my own body and unaware of the signs. I had the classic story of waiting too late. I had some abnormalities in my testicle for over a year but I had no health insurance. To add to it, I was homeless at the time and high as a kite. My testicle was hard, but it didn’t hurt and I had no “lump.” Out of nowhere I got horrible pains in my lower abdominal that eventually landed me in the ER. Long story short, a woman found me in a bush, and I ended up in Bellevue Hospital in New York City, where I was later diagnosed with stage 3 testicular cancer. I remember before I went in to surgery my mom said, “Did you know your initials [Thomas Cantley] are same as Testicular Cancer?” That is the last thing I remembered before going under.

Cirque de Ball, anyone?
Nine years ago, public knowledge of testicular cancer was not what it is today. Movember and other organizations were still very new back then. I wanted to be unique with my approach after being diagnosed. There were not many individual advocates putting themselves out there, and I wanted to be one of the first to approach it in a ballsy way with edge. I have pushed two giant balls across two countries, Canada and United States, in hopes of raising awareness for testicular cancer. My goal has been to always inspire men to be more aware of their bodies and be proactive as to not end up like me. My message has always been very vulnerable - I’m committed to stripping down the walls and exposing the men’s health connection with as many people as possible. I connect with so many people all over the world. I will never stop answering my phone and responding on social media to help anyone in need, even if it’s just lending an ear.

Testicular cancer truly changed my life and saved me.

After my diagnosis and surgery, I realized I had a bigger purpose and second chance at life. Someone out there was telling me that it was not my time yet. I knew then that I needed to dedicate my life to helping people who were in same position as me and hopefully prevent anyone else from going through what I did. I waited too long to take care of my health, and I hope by sharing my story, other men don’t make the same mistake.

Nine years later, I’m blessed - I’m all good and cancer free. I was told I wasn’t able to have kids and guess what… I had a son and even got a beautiful wife along with the deal. You never know how life will end up or how it will work out… but it always does. You have the power to dictate your destiny and legacy.

My new testicular cancer awareness mission, Big Ballsy Comics

"By the power of Ballskull..."
I have partnered up with a talented comic book artist Adam Cozart to create a first-of-its-kind, cancer fighting superhero awareness comic series called Big Ballsy Comics. The main character, Mr Ballsy, is based on my persona with my dog Vader along side Lefty, who is my giant left testicle that comes to life.

One of my main characters, Dr. P, is actually based on the Director of Testicular Cancer at John Hopkins Hospital, Phillip Pierorazio. As Dr. P is the leader, he has recruited cancer survivors to form a ballsy team that fights to stop the cancerous queen from populating the world with cancer and taking over. Only the ballsy heroes can stop her. [Editor’s Note: Superheroes and cancer? You know I am all about this!]
My goal for this series is to bring light to a tough subject matter. I also wanted to inspire survivors to channel their diagnosis and use it their advantage and find there unique approach in educating the world about Testicular cancer. Our goal is to distribute internationally at comic conventions, hospitals, and any place that will take it. I figured because of how big the comic world is and the large male demographic, it was a perfect concept to develop to get the message out. We will be launching this summer!

The bottom line is we need to be more proactive as men and listen to our bodies.

It’s not just checking for the symptoms that are obvious. You need to make it a point to really know your man junk and notice if anything’s different. Being in tune with yourself is key, and if anything appears abnormal, get checked. It’s okay to be afraid and even more okay to talk about it. It’s super ballsy to go get yourself checked and not be shy about it.

We have to erase the taboo nature of testicles and the fact that people get uncomfortable about the health of their balls. Even if it’s a scare, it’s better to be on it. You’re more of a man if you man up. Your life is the only one you got... be Ballsy about it.

Be sure to connect with Thomas by visiting him on Twitter (@mrballsy) and on Instagram (@mrballsy) and connect with Big Ballsy Comics on Twitter (@BigBallsyComics) and Instagram (@BigBallsyComics) . Until next time, Carpe Scrotiem!

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!

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.

Monday, May 7, 2018

PCL29: HealtheVoices 2018 - Day 3, Next Year, and My Takeaways

Days One and Two of HealtheVoices18 Were Incredible and There Was Still One More Day.

As I woke up on the final day of HeatheVoices18, I couldn’t help but reflect on the themes of the first two days (read more about days one and two here). While the first day of HealtheVoices18 (a health advocates conference I attended in Chicago in late April 2018) was a marathon of inspirational messages, my theme of day two was split down the middle (much like my scrotum). One thing I’m going to be committing to is a new outlet for ABSOT via video (and you can subscribe to the budding channel here). My mind is already whirling on how this is going to go, but I also recognize I want to slow down and plan it out well first.

Al and me
The other focal point of day two was connection. I spent a lot of time talking and bonding with the cancer advocates who I had met at the pre-conference. Since there were only ten total cancer advocates in the group of 120 advocates, I also spent a decent amount of time connecting with others from other advocacy areas.

I spoke with Al Levin, a mental health advocate about how we can use our experiences as health advocates to conduct research studies, talked with Sabrina Skiles, psoriasis advocate on how we both experience so many misconceptions about our conditions, and learned what schizophrenia is really like (spoiler: nothing like movies and media makes it seem) from a schizophrenia advocate named Rachel Star. Even though we all had different passions and conditions, we all experience many of the same things and could bond over this common link.

After pondering these two separate, yet equally powerful and important lessons, I had a sneaking feeling that day three of HealtheVoices18 would be a third, separate theme - perhaps one of reflection.

Day three of HealtheVoices18

Kyle and me... in the correct position
In the morning of the final day, we heard from Impact Fund recipients, who have done some incredible things, like making their media more accessible or amplifying the underheard voices for their specific advocacy focus with grant money from Janssen. This was followed by a very intense closing message from Kevin Hines, a brain disease advocate. I also got another chance to share my story and mission on the HealtheVoices virtual experience and Facebook Live with another advocate. I’ll never turn down an opportunity to talk balls on camera, and I got to administer my research study survey to the host live, which was super fun, and not that awkward (for me at least)!

As a side note, please consider completing the above mentioned survey, which is embedded just below. It's a total of six questions and part of an extremely important research study I am running about men and testicular exams at the doctor's office. If you don’t have testicles yourself, the direct link to the survey is, so please pass it on to your sons/husbands/boyfriends/uncles/male dogs/etc. (You can also snag a copy of the graphic here).

Suddenly, Caroline Parvis was back up on stage, telling us that it was time to leave for this year. After hugging some new friends and selfies (including a properly posed picture with Kyle… when you see it, you’ll understand), it was time to board the buses to O’Hare. While it was the shortest day of the conference, it gave me some things to think about, especially while I sat in the airport for three hours waiting for my flight.

My plans for Healthevoices next year

I honestly loved every moment. I’ve attended numerous educational conferences, and this was a new experience. Save for the Ship’s Got Balls event, I’ve never been at a health conference. I’ve said this time and time again, but being in a room full of people with common interests and passions like health advocacy is something that cannot be described. While I would never wish to have cancer, I am thankful to have found a place and a tribe to be with.

Next year, I’ll plan on coming back… even if I’m not accepted (only partially kidding)! I’m pretty sure the conference wouldn’t be the same without having two crazy Uniballers together. I know my life has sure been different since my nuts were separated.

On a serious note, I would like to join the Advisory Board or take on a speaking role during a panel discussion during next year’s conference. I would like to speak about men’s health and how we need to do more with it, which would nicely tie into how to speak about under-discussed or “taboo” topics in general. I could alternatively just run a session on how to effectively craft elaborate ball puns - whatever the people want.

A call to action from HealtheVoices18

I realize this blog post is most applicable for health advocates, and the average reader of ABSOT most likely doesn’t fall into that category. Yet, you’re probably not lacking in a pair of balls (or never had any), and you keep coming back, so health advocacy actually is important to you.

You, as a reader, have the power to help advocates. One of the biggest recurring themes through HealtheVoices18 was how to amplify your voice and grow your audience. This is where you come in.

See a health advocate trying to spread their message of awareness and activism? Help them. Share. Retweet. Tag friends who would benefit from hearing their message. If you know a testicular cancer advocate who is doing an important research study, share the link (hint, hint!)

All of these people work very hard for
health advocacy. Show them your support. 
Many advocates do this as either a labor of love or an unpaid mission on top of a full time job. You wouldn't think twice about sharing a cute cat video or some #foodporn, so don’t hesitate to share a more important and noble message (though cat videos are a true calling).

At times, I personally have felt like my messages are not being heard. Honestly, it hurts. I put a ton of work into something that I feel extremely passionate about, and it is frustrating when a video of a cat doing the dab goes viral over a piece about the importance of April as testicular cancer awareness month.

But I need to remember the message of one of our participants of open mic night. He asked us each to hold up one finger. He said that if you reach just one person, then your mission is worth it. To those advocates that I met at HealtheVoices18 (and the ones I have not had the opportunity to meet yet), continue to do what you do. It is important and your efforts matter.

My final takeaways from HealtheVoices18

On a personal level, I struggled at points throughout HealtheVoices18 because I do not necessarily see myself as a patient advocate and more as a testicular cancer activist. I will never turn down giving support to a testicular cancer patient/survivor if he reaches out to me, but I don’t do a lot of active outreach to those who are diagnosed. The main goal of ABSOT is to promote awareness and conversation around testicular cancer and men's health as a whole.

I was glad to see the support of
United as I entered O'Hare
At times, I felt I was not doing enough because I am not necessarily focused on the needs of the patients and survivors. However, I do still feel that my mission is important, and even though my angle is different, I still had a number of takeaways from HealtheVoices18. Perhaps the biggest one is diving into video production and creation of a dedicated YouTube channel (another shameless plug - subscribe here! More content will be coming over the summer and fall). Upon further reflection, I do plan to have a portion of the YouTube channel geared directly to recently diagnosed and current fighters, with an overall theme of actionable awareness.

To those of you who I met over the the weekend, and especially the program advisors and organizers at Janssen, thank you very much for your continued dedication and work for putting on this conference. I hope to keep in contact with all of you as we help each other to support our missions. This was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but I hope it is just the first time. It's not enough for this to be a one-time thing...

But as I told literally anyone who would listen, it is 100% acceptable to have just one ball.

Disclosure: My travel expenses were paid for by Janssen Global Services, LLC. All thoughts and opinions expressed on social media or this blog are fully my own, honest thoughts, and not reflective of those held by Janssen… Especially the ball jokes. Those are all mine.

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.