Many people who have cancer won’t encounter it until later in life, but testicular cancer is different — a male is at risk for it as young as 15 years old. The American Cancer Society states the average age for a male diagnosed with testicular cancer is only 33 years old. Kyle Smith, cancer survivor and creator of CHECK 15, a campaign dedicated to cancer awareness, was diagnosed with cancer at 27 years old. Check out how he is thriving as a survivor and what he lost in the journey.
HealthCentral (HC): Which signs and symptoms did you experience which prompted you to make a visit to the doctor?
Kyle Smith: I was 27, almost 28, when I found two small lumps right next to each other about the size of a pea or small marble on my right testicle. I kind of found them on accident. Other than that, I had no signs or symptoms. I wasn’t specifically doing a self-exam, because at the time I didn’t know that men should be doing that because no one ever told me. I actually ran the Chicago marathon two days after finding the lumps. So I was completely fine, I was completely healthy, athletic. I had been training, so I had been eating well and exercising a lot. So the very next day (after the marathon), I went to see my general practitioner.
HC: Before being diagnosed, how much did you know or had you heard about testicular cancer?
Kyle Smith: I knew it existed. I think the two people everyone knew about was Lance Armstrong and Tom Greene, they had very public cases, and they used their celebrity to shine a light on testicular cancer. So I think that was really my only knowledge of that specific cancer. Like I said, I had never been told that I should be doing self-exams, which is one of the reasons I started CHECK 15. I was kind of shocked that testicular cancer is the most common cancer for men between the ages of 15 and 35. It’s a young man’s cancer. I was a little miffed that no one ever told me I should be doing self-exams.
HC: So walk me through your diagnosis. How did you feel when the doctor first determined you had testicular cancer, and how long did it take for them to diagnose you?
Kyle Smith: I was stage 1 and usually when testicular cancer is at stage 1, they can’t actually tell you that it’s cancer, until after you have surgery and they biopsy it. I actually was told it’s more dangerous to biopsy it before surgery because it opens up more possibility of it spreading through the rest of the body, which makes most cancers become really dangerous. So the doctors prefer it to be contained and do orchiectomy, the removal of the entire testicle rather than biopsy it and then test it. So I didn’t technically know I had cancer until after surgery.
I was given options as to follow-up procedures. I could have just done surveillance and had no further treatment after surgery or I could have had a week worth of radiation, or one dose of carboplatin chemo, which my urologist describes as a “user-friendly chemo.” It’s not quite as intense, men usually don’t lose any hair. I’ll hit my five-year mark in October (since diagnosis), which is a good mark to hit, but I continued to go to an urologist four times a year the first couple of years, and now I only go twice a year. At the appointments, it’s usually blood work and a CT scan.
HC: How did your friends and family respond to your diagnosis?
Kyle Smith: It definitely was emotional for my parents. I told them the morning after running the marathon. They were there with me through the whole process. I remember telling my sister and brother-and-law… My sister cried. I remember calling my friend Lisa, she was in the store with people somewhere. She answered the phone and was crying but I was also making her laugh, so her husband was like what exactly is going on? I always approach stuff like this with a sense of humor because I think it’s easier to talk about. That’s part of what we do at CHECK 15: We approach all cancers with a sense of humor to make things easier to talk about and to help people become more comfortable with their body.
HC: How has your life changed since your diagnosis?
Kyle Smith: To some extent I would say physically I haven’t had many side effects, fortunately I caught it early. Personality wise, I’ve always had a pretty strong drive to make something of my life but cancer definitely pushed me even more. I want to potentially help more people get through stuff like this. I’d like to change the way people perceive cancer and perceive cancer diagnosis. What we do at CHECK 15 is we make a cancer awareness video every fifteenth day of the month. So that’s affected my life a lot because it’s a big commitment.
HC: What advice would you give to a guy who is newly diagnosed with testicular cancer?
Kyle Smith: Find a doctor you feel comfortable with, it’s ok to get second opinions, find support.
(Interview has been condensed and edited)