Treatment is the easy part—it’s the aftermath that’s potentially scary
To raise funds for men’s health, including testicular cancer, men grow mustaches every “Movember.”
Of all the harrowing medical setbacks a guy can live through, testicular cancer might actually be the easiest. Not only is it highly treatable; it tends to affect younger men aged 20-39, who are otherwise in good enough health to fight the disease, which—when caught early—boasts a survival rate of 99 percent, according to the American Cancer Society.
[quote position="left" is_quote="true"]The body only needs one testicle to function. Like one kidney.[/quote]
The aftermath of testicular cancer, however, proves less comforting. In all cases, treatment calls for the removal of the tumor-ridden testicle, a prospect that can seem emasculating, confounding, and downright scary. For such an intimate part of your anatomy to disappear like that—well, it’s no wonder so much of the disease is shrouded in taboo and fear. But for the majority of TC survivors, that fear ends up being misguided.
Tim*, a 48-year-old designer living in New York, discovered his tumor by accident, when his partner, a Grindr hookup, noticed one of his balls felt harder than the other. He looked it up online, saw that it was a potential match for early indications of testicular cancer, and, though he told himself it was probably nothing, made a doctor’s appointment just to be safe. “As soon as (my doctor) felt it, he said ‘I want you to get an ultrasound right away.’ I could tell he knew there was something there.”
After surgery—which involved the removal of one testicle (the procedure is called an orchiectomy), and the simultaneous insertion of a prosthetic testicle—Tim says he felt “renewed.” This is common: For patients of this particular disease, life tends to pick up right where it left off, with minimal interruption. Meanwhile, New York-based Adrian, 30, who was diagnosed in the fall of 2015 with Stage I testicular cancer, said he was able to resume sexual activity within just two weeks of his treatment. “I noticed I wasn’t any less horny, and perhaps even more horny than I was before treatment.”
The explanation for this may have more to do with anatomy than psychology. Aside from the initial shock of having a testicle removed, the physical bounce-back for patients with testicular cancer is surprisingly quick. “The body only needs one testicle to function,” Tim explains. “Like one kidney. Eventually, the remaining one grows a little bit because it’s doing more work.”
Tim, like many others, opted to insert a prosthetic ball (the procedure was done on the same day as his orchiectomy), hoping it would provide a semblance of normalcy to his cancer-warped physique. After all, unless you’re a urologist, or you happen to be looking really, really closely, there’s virtually no way to distinguish Tim’s scrotum from one carrying a pair of original testicles. “There’s nothing different. If I’m with somebody, I won’t even say anything unless they notice first.”
[quote position="right" is_quote="true"]The fake ball, he says, has a slightly different texture than his biological one. Sort of like rubber.[/quote]
Of course, Tim isn’t so easily fooled. Prosthetic balls, he says, “aren’t as squishy,” so when he’s feeling around down there, the difference on his own body is obvious. Yet, for Tim, that outcome was preferable to becoming a monorchid, the scientific term for individuals with just one testicle. “I would have felt more self-conscious if I hadn’t gotten the prosthetic. I definitely wanted that, because (the appearance) wouldn’t be so obvious.”
The same was true for 27-year-old Kevin, based in Austin, who lived the first 14 years of his life as a monorchid. That’s because when he was just an infant, doctors found a hard mass on his left testicle, and suspecting it to be cancerous, performed surgery to remove it. As it turned out, there was no cancer.
“(When I was a teenager), I became more aware of it. I knew there was a difference between me and the other boys,” Kevin said. So, using a small inheritance he got from his grandfather, at age 14 he spent $3,000 to get a prosthetic implant.
The fake ball, he says, has a slightly different texture than his biological one. “Sort of like rubber,” he describes, “Like a good bouncy ball, not a super soft one. It doesn’t give that much, but it gives a little bit.”
As for the bedroom, he says he’s “never encountered a negative reaction” about his prosthetic ball. “Some people don’t care or notice; others are excited about it.” Interestingly, testicles have become one of the most enticing parts of sex for Kevin, who is gay. “I’ve always had this fetish about testicles. Having someone’s mouth on my balls, or having my mouth on theirs. It consistently gets me off.” He pauses. “I guess it’s a very convenient fetish to have.”