Jake Gibb and his beach volleyball partner, Sean Rosenthal made it to the quarterfinals in the 2012 Olympics. Although it must be extremely disappointing to come so far and walk away without a medal, Gibb, who received a diagnosis of testicular cancer not even two years ago and survived a bout of skin cancer several years ago wasn’t even sure he was going to make it to the Olympics. (To Jake and Sean: you are a tribute to the United States and we are proud of you)
Jake Gibb didn’t grow up on the beaches of California playing volleyball. He was born in Utah and throughout high school, at 6’ 2", a big fan of the Utah Jazz, he had his sights set on playing basketball, until he was cut from his high school team in his senior year. That same year, he joined a recreational beach volleyball league and although he had thought of it as a girl’s sport, he found he liked the game. During the two years following high school, Gibb grew 4 more inches and played volleyball in his back yard, with his twin brother.
He started playing beach volleyball regularly when he was 21, certainly much later than most players he faces in tournaments and the Olympics. In 2000, Gibb competed in some Association of Volleyball Professional (AVP) events. During his first full time season with the AVP, he was ranked 19th and continued moving up in the ranks - by 2005 he was ranked 1st and was named AVP’s Most Valuable Player.
In 2006, Gibb teamed up with his current partner, Sean Rosenthal and together they made it to the Olympics in 2008 and again this year. But the journey has been tough. In late 2010, Gibb was suspended for abnormal levels of alpha fetoprotein and beta-hCG in his blood, substances that can indicate steroid use. But it wasn’t steroid use causing the problem - it was testicular cancer.
Facing surgery and a regimen of chemotherapy, it looked like any possibility of making it to the 2012 Olympics was gone. But Gibb’s surgery got all of the cancer and chemotherapy was not necessary - giving him the chance to continue playing volleyball, winning the FIVB World Tour Grand Slam in London and securing a spot in the Olympics.
You can watch the video of Jake’s story on his website: JakeGibb.com
What is Testicular Cancer?
Testicular cancer is the most common form of cancer in men between the ages of 15 and 35. It is more common in white males than in African-American or Asian -American men. It starts in the testicles and can spread to other parts of the body. Although the cause of testicular cancer is not known, there are some risk factors which may increase your chances of developing this type of cancer:
- Abnormal testicle development
- History or family history of testicular cancer
- History of undescended testicle
- Klinefelter syndrome
- Exposure to certain chemicals or the HIV infection
There are two types of testicular cancer. Seminoma is a slow growing cancer which usually remains in the testes but can spread to lymph nodes. Nonseminoma is a faster growing form of the cancer and is the more common type.
Symptoms of Testicular Cancer
Some men may have no symptoms, others may experience pain or discomfort in their testicle or have a feeling of heaviness in the scrotum. Additional symptoms include:
- Pain in back or lower abdomen
- Enlargement of testicle
- Lump or swelling in testicle
Some men may also notice excess development of breast tissue, however, this can also be a part of normal adolescent development.
Diagnosing Testicular Cancer
Often, testicular cancer is diagnosed after finding a lump in one of the testicles. When a flashlight is held up to the scrotum, the light does not pass through the mass. Your doctor may also order additional tests, such as CT scans of the abdomen and pelvis, chest x-ray, ultrasound of the scrotum or blood tests which look for tumor markers (alpha fetoprotein, beta hCG, lactic dehydrogenase).
Once the tumor is removed, a biopsy will be performed to determine if cancer is present.
Depending on the stage of cancer (whether it is entirely within the testicles or if it has spread to lymph nodes or other parts of the body), your doctor will determine what treatments are best for you. There are three main types of treatment:
- Surgery to remove the testicle(s) and lymph nodes
- Radiation therapy (mostly for seminomas)
Testicular cancer is treatable and curable. For those with cancer that has not spread outside the testes, the survival rate is greater than 95 percent. For cancer that his spread, the survival rate is lower but is still higher than many other cancers.
"Cancer Champion Turned Olympian," 2012, July 29, Reviewed by Joseph V. Madia, M.D., Daily RX
"Gibbs Gets Past Cancer to Games," Updated 2012, July 31, Staff Writer, FoxSports.com
"Jake Gibb Bio," Updated 2012, July 25, Staff Writer, NBCOlympics.com
"Testicular Cancer," Reviewed 2011, June 13, Reviewed by David C. Dugdale II, M.D., A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia,
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.