Living with a Purpose; A
Story of Two Testicular ...
Living with a Purpose; A
Story of Two Testicular Cancer Survivors
Jason Greenspan was only 18
years old in May 2012 when the world came “tumbling down” for him. He was
diagnosed with Testicular cancer just a few weeks before graduating from high
school, something that would change his entire life. At that tender age, most
teenagers have a colorful life that is usually filled with lifetime memories
such as prom. Prom is a popular term used in high school to refer to the
promenade concert or dance that is commonly held towards the end of the senior
year. The event is often regarded by many as a rite of passage. Unfortunately
for Greenspan, this part of his life was uneventful as he explains how it was
almost grabbed from him.
Greenspan, a testicular
cancer survivor and now a student at Shippensburg University succinctly
elaborates how he received the “bad news” in the best way only he could tell.
He thought his diagnosis was the end of him and that his life had stopped.
Greenspan could not come into terms with the possibility of dying at such a
young age, and from that moment onwards, he constantly thought of everything he
had been through and experiences he was going to miss. He thought he would miss
out on some of the most important things at that time of his life such as prom
and graduation. Lucky for him, he did not. He decided he was going to postpone
his surgery and attend both of these events because they were too important for
him. As if the mere thought of missing out on these events were just a tip of
the iceberg, Greenspan professed that thoughts of missing the rest of his life
as a whole were adamant in his mind; a clear indication that he had lost hope
in life (Duffy, 2016). “My life basically flashed in front of my eyes. It
was a surreal experience”- Jason Greenspan.
Greenspan, an accomplished
planner according to his peers, was tasked with planning for their prom. He
admits that even though planning for prom was fun, it was an uphill task as the
event was slated to be enormous but colorful, and meaningful. Before hell came
knocking, he had already reserved the limo and prepared a schedule, ready to
have the time of his life. Greenspan did not know what awaited him was the
complete opposite. He says “little did I know that my life was going to change
in an instant”.
Days into the big day, Greenspan was home
watching television when he had a simple itch that was life-changing. He
noticed something hard and unusual, a feeling he had never experienced before.
He knew something was not right and rushed to tell his mother about what he was
experiencing. His instincts predicted something horrible was happening to his body.
His mother reassured him to calm down as she would make a doctor’s appointment
right away. The two went for the doctor’s appointment within a day, and the
doctor ran some checks. Then the bombshell was dropped; he had cancer.
Innumerable things crisscrossed his mind. Never in a million lives would he have
thought of being a cancer patient. He tried holding back his tears, but some
rolled down his cheeks. Greenspan was confused as he knew little about
testicular cancer. He found himself asking the doctor “how long do I have?”
With a blurry mind, he started recalling random events in his life right away
from childhood up to that moment. It was almost as if they were being taken
away from him, and he wanted to cherish them, now more than ever. He dreaded
that there won’t be any more memories in his life now that death was looming (Refsnes, 2015).
Greenspan’s mother was also
shocked beyond belief. Her mother (Greenspan’s grandmother) had just been
re-diagnosed with cancer, and now her son’s life was also at risk. Greenspan
was trying to recover from the shock and did not tell most of his high school
friends at first. He did not know how to. Later on, he broke the news to his
close friends to their surprise. Nonetheless, they were very supportive, and
they tried helping in whatever way they could. Jason recalls that his mother
was the most influential person in his life during his diagnosis and the
process of treatment. His loving mother took three months off from work just to
attend all his doctor’s appointments and sit with him in chemotherapy sessions
Greenspan would later be
scheduled for a surgery which did not take long. His whole family showed up to
support him, and this felt great. However, several tests after the surgery
including general checkups and CT scans revealed that the nightmare was not
over. The cancer had spread, and therefore he would require further treatment.
This is how Greenspan found himself in chemo. The fact that cancer had spread
affected him both psychologically and emotionally. At first, he thought chemo
was not as stressful as people deem it to be. The physical part only involved a
needle in his arm with medicine in the form of a fluid going into his body for
up to five hours. This was nothing compared to the aftermath which would
involve stomach pains, loss of appetite, loss of weight, lack of energy, and
vomiting. After nine weeks of chemo, he tried to recover quickly and get back
to normal life by resting and going out a lot.
Justin Birckbichle is also a
testicular cancer survivor just like Jason Greenspan. He discovered something
unusual while doing his monthly self-exam in the shower. He scheduled an
appointment with a physician who diagnosed him with stage II non-seminoma
testicular cancer in November 2016 at a young age of 25. Justin instantly knew
his life was never going to be the same again when he received the news from
his urologist. He was prepared to be physically and emotionally hurt. He
learned from professionals that his diagnosis would require a painful surgery
and also entail chemotherapy. Although he was excited about getting healed, he
knew he was going to handle much pain and fatigue as well as nausea associated
with chemotherapies for several months. Justin, who is now in remission would
endure over three months of chemotherapy. During his battle with cancer, he
started a blog called “A Ballsy Sense of Tumor” to share his experiences before
diagnosis, during diagnosis and treatment, and after healing from cancer. His
blog would help him cope with the situation, and later on, he would spread
awareness and open up conversations about testicular cancer and men’s health to
help others. (Craycraft, 2017).
Justin’s family was
supportive, and he’s happy that his family was bonded for a common agenda which
was to help him fight cancer. His diagnosis was a significant drawback, and it
was even painful for him to endure the situation at an emotional level than the
physical level which had nasty side effects. Justin’s fiancée Chagrin Mallory was
equally devastated especially because Justin is not the type of guy to express
his feelings easily. Perhaps, this is why Justin had opted for a blog, where he
could channel all his feelings and lighten his burden (Craycraft, 2017).
Mallory and Justin were happy
in 2016, and they found it exciting. Justin had just proposed to her in
February and soon afterward, they bought a house and moved in together. Both
were thrilled and soon began wedding plans since the occasion was scheduled for
next summer. They slated for engagement photos and arranged to meet their
cake’s baker. They even began looking for best places they would go for their
honeymoon when the biggest blow hit them. She writes on Justin’s blog, “and then all of a sudden in the middle of
all of these blissful plans and dreams comes a word that I have feared for most
of my life…CANCER.” She indicates how cancer took away the people she loved
most in the world including her grandmother before she got a chance to meet
her, her beloved grandfather when she was just eight years old, and a student
she loved in her first year of teaching. She explains how the word cancer
struck her heart like a dagger several times and how it sucked out air from her
lungs. She was scared stiff and thought that the disease would break Justin’s
spirit and shut down the special light that shone in him. After asking herself
innumerable questions about what had transpired, she would later accept and
take the situation positively just like Justin (Birckbichle).
Justin would suffer the same
plight as Greenspan. Before his post-op appointment, he commenced writing about
his story that would cover everything from the time he discovered the lump,
hoping that his surgery was going to be the end of his journey with cancer. He
discovered that words flowed easily and that he felt a weight being lifted from
him with every keystroke. Blogging was actually helping him cope with the
situation. He felt relieved after writing down all details of how he found out
about having cancer and his first experiences with the doctors. Unfortunately,
his battle with cancer was far from over. Just like Greenspan, Justin would be
compelled to seek further treatment after a series of tests including CT scans
indicated that the cancer had spread to his lymph nodes which required
intensive chemotherapy to treat. The sad news did not only break Justin’s heart
but also Mallory who broke into tears. Justin resolved to write more, the only
thing he thought would help him cope up. At this time, Justin did not think
much about the impact he had on other people with a similar diagnosis but rather
for his personal reasons; in his own words he said, “it was more to process for
As he continued with his
chemotherapy, Justin figured out he could use his blogging for a larger benefit
than just his coping. He wanted his writing to be a valuable resource to others
having testicular cancer. This was the beginning of his acceptance and having a
positive outlook, something he believes was key to his eventual survival. He
recalled his grandfather who also had cancer challenging him always to embrace
a positive attitude, something he decided to do. Ever since, Justin has heard
from many cancer patients, caregivers, and survivors telling him how the blog
has helped them. He says his most significant source of inspiration is seeing
other cancer survivors maintain a proper mindset. He also suggests that the
most important message to be spread online is that testicles should be
discussed openly and not be treated with shame. “My grandfather had cancer. He had the attitude of tell me
what to do and I'll get it done. Being down about it wasn't going to help at
all, so I didn't.” - Justin Birckbichle.
The stage II non-seminoma testicular
cancer survivors were initially full of life since they were still young.
Before his diagnosis, Justin was an ordinary youth just like any other at his
age. He was overcommitted to multiple projects and was quite industrious.
Greenspan, on the other hand, was very hopeful and visionary. In his final year
in high school, he had written numerous applications to colleges he had dreamt
of attending, and many accepted him. He finally settled for one; Shippensburg
University that he currently attends. The two were lucky to be diagnosed with a
type of cancer that is not difficult to survive. Greenspan read more about
Testicular cancer after his diagnosis and discovered that it is the most common
type of cancer for men between ages 15 and 44, and if detected early, it is up
to 99% curable (Refsnes, 2017). Greenspan also resolved to help young men
understand the importance of monthly self-exams since it’s the most effective
method of early detection.
After his recovery, Greenspan
joined a group known as Cancer to 5K, where cancer survivors train for their
first 5K post-treatment. He found 20 other survivors in the group and their
stories were inspiring. Even though he survived, Jason admits to living every
day like it’s his last since cancer changed his perception of life. Most
importantly, he feels great to be able to tell his story and impact on the
lives of other young men so that they cannot go through whatever he did.
Greenspan has attended numerous talk shows and interviews where he seeks to
inspire others through his story. Apart from TV appearances and radio shows, he
has also been featured in magazines and newspapers (Greenspan, 2017). He also
supports the Testicular Cancer Awareness Foundation and the LIVESTRONG
Foundation through selling wristbands and squished pennies that he created. Greenspan
suggests more funding for cancer research and grants payable to nonprofits such
as TCAF to ensure that enough awareness is being spread. He does his own
fundraising entitled STAMP OUT CANCER NOW (Greenspan, 2017).
Justin who had been diagnosed
in November 2016 and cleared in remission March 2017 was declared to be cancer
free in June 2017. Mallory indicates that Justin was able to turn a bad
situation he was dealing with and turn it into something wonderful. The cancer
journey brought them together and made them stronger. They learned to cherish
every moment they spent together. They have now known how to stick together
through difficult moments and happy times and thus got married on 15th
July 2017. She firmly believes that Justin’s purpose is to share his optimism
and compassion with the world. She says he has always had a light for life and
a driving force that he shares through his charisma, humor, and teaching.
Justin is looking forward to writing a book about his journey and experiences
in the future, as well as give more public speeches on his story (Birckbichler,
2017). Currently, he’s focused and committed to making a difference in the
community through working with various non-profit organizations that help fight
cancer and spread cancer awareness such as Stupid Cancer, Testicular Cancer
Society, and Testicular Cancer Foundation among others.
The stories of these two
young men; Greenspan and Justin have inspired many people and changed numerous
lives. Both have joined the fight against cancer, and they do so through
spreading awareness and contributing in whatever way they possibly can, and
with whatever resources they have. Together, they have helped prove that cancer
is a battle that people can win.