Survivor Spotlight: Justin Birckbichler
Blogging - A Good Way to Cope
From the moment my urologist told me “You have cancer,” I knew I was in for a long haul, both physically and emotionally. I learned that my diagnosis would require a painful surgery and recovery (and later found out that it would also entail chemotherapy). I wasn’t thrilled about it, but I knew I could handle pain, fatigue, and nausea for a couple of months as long as I knew it would lead to a cancer-free life.
What was harder for me than any of the physical side effects was dealing with the diagnosis on an emotional level. Much to my fiancée's chagrin, I’ve never been one to talk about my emotions. Blame it on society, my own stubbornness, or whatever other factor you want to point fingers at, but when it comes to my feelings, you’re not going to get much from me beyond “I’m fine.”
However, handling a cancer diagnosis is far different than getting over a fight about why I didn’t do the dishes for the third day in a row. I couldn’t hide my diagnosis, but I also wasn’t about to sit down and talk about how I was feeling. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I knew I couldn’t ignore these feelings completely.
A few days before my post-op appointment, I began writing down my story from the discovery of the lump to present day. I found the words flowed easily from my fingers, and with every keystroke, I felt a weight being lifted. At this point, I was writing solely for me to help cope. After writing down the details of the discovery and the first doctor’s appointments, I felt less stressed about everything. I figured I would update the Google Doc after the post-op appointment and that would be the end of my brief foray into writing - and my experience with cancer.
Life doesn’t always work out the way you want it to. At the post-op, my CT scan revealed that the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes and that I would need aggressive chemotherapy to treat it. My fiancee immediately started crying, as this was devastating news. Me? I wanted to write.
As soon as we arrived home, I opened up my Chromebook and wrote out what had just transpired. I was able to recall the information and dialogue almost perfectly. Again, I felt as though I was able to work through my emotions by recreating my experience on the screen and adding my own emotions to the story. Perhaps I felt more like I was writing about a character than myself, but this distance helped me to process what was to come.
Chemotherapy was scheduled to begin at the end of November. I realized I could use my writing for a larger benefit than just my own coping. I wanted to go public with my journey, in hopes that it would be a valuable resource for others going through testicular cancer and as a reminder for those who are healthy to do self-checks frequently.
I took much of my story and started a blog: A Ballsy Sense of Tumor. The title was important to me. It had to convey this blog was about testicular cancer and that I would be writing about it in as positively and with as much humor as possible when discussing cancer. While cancer is no laughing matter, my outlook on life meant that this particular chapter in it had to be approached with humor and positivity.
I decided the blog would detail three different aspects of my cancer journey: Chemo Chronicles (posts about my present-day experiences with chemotherapy and general musings about life as a cancer patient), Throwback Thursday (sharing the beginning of my story from the initial discovery up until the start of chemotherapy), and Healthy But Aware (my close friends and family share how my diagnosis has affected them). Cancer doesn’t affect only those with the official diagnosis, and I wanted to give those around me a platform to process through writing, just as I had.
Throughout chemo, I had some good times and also bad moments. Consistently, I would share my honest feelings about how I was handling different aspects of my treatment in my Chemo Chronicle posts. My fiancee would often ask me how I was feeling about different hurdles that arose, and I would say, “I’m not sure. You’ll have to check the blog.” I’m sure she was a big fan of that.
Since launching the blog, I have heard from other testicular cancer survivors, current patients, caregivers, and everyday people about how much the blog has helped them. I’ve heard from those who appreciated learning what to expect from a testicular cancer diagnosis, how to handle it, and those who were simply inspired to do more. For every person the blog has helped, it’s helped me deal with my cancer tenfold.
Writing, and choosing to share with a public audience, has been the predominant way I have handled the emotions associated with my illness. I strongly advocate for anyone handling a life-changing event to write about it. Even if you don’t share it with anyone, it’s another avenue for you to process and work through what is happening. No one should have to keep it all in and writing gives you a good place to reflect. I’m glad I chose to begin a blog and I’ll continue writing even beyond my “all clear” because dealing with the impact of cancer doesn’t end just when you are cancer-free.
Be sure to check out Justin's entire blog at A Ballsy Sense of Tumor