As the winner of the 2018 WEGO Health Award for Hilarious Patient Leader, I’m often asked why I chose to approach cancer in such a humorous light. To be quite honest, it really comes down to one, single fact – I only have one, single testicle.
Rather than hiding that I’m now 50% more aerodynamic below the belt, I chose to grab the opportunity by the ball and use humor for the following 4 reasons in advocating and raising awareness about testicular cancer on social media, on my blog, A Ballsy Sense of Tumor, and in everyday conversations.
1. Using humor lightens the mood
I was diagnosed with testicular cancer at 25, which is supposed to be a time in your life filled with nights you’ll never remember with friends you’ll never forget. Instead, I spent most of my nights for about six months in pain from surgery or reeling from the endless bouts of chemotherapy-induced nausea.
However, I made it a goal to always work in jokes and humor. Beating cancer with humor (and a side of chemo) was my goal from the start and it helped me stay positive. My main oncology nurse, Jen, even noted it in a card she gave me at the end of chemo, writing, “You were handed a tough regimen but you were always positive and even when vomiting you were laughing and making a joke.”
2. It sets people at ease
When dealing with a serious illness like cancer, people don’t often know how to react. I went from being a typical mid-twenties guy to a bald and bloated cancer patient. Those around me initially didn’t know how to support me – were they supposed to mention cancer, tiptoe around the issue, or ignore it entirely?
Once I realized people were hesitant to address the trials ahead, I posted a message to my friends and family saying, “While losing my left testicle is going suck, to keep it in and let it kill me would truly be nuts.” From there on out, people could relax and understand that cancer didn’t have to be the scary elephant in the room. I welcome open conversation about my journey, even to this day.
Case in point, a friend asked me about it while we were using adjacent urinals the other day. While I don’t think he expected an immediate answer, there was no time like the present. To be fair, he was in the right area.
3. Humor provides an opening for education
Opening cold when talking about testicular cancer can make a person downright testy. However, when you get the ball rolling with a pun or clever remark, people are much more likely to sack up and take interest in what you have to say.
Telling guys to touch themselves (for health purposes) isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do, but leading with a joke allows you to segue into the potentially life-saving information about a self-exam. Best done during or after a shower when the scrotum is relaxed, just place your index and middle fingers under the testicle with your thumb on top. Firmly but gently, roll the testicle between your fingers. Any weird lumps or bumps should be checked out by a doctor ASAP. When you get out of the shower, be sure to look for signs of changes in shape, color, or swelling.
In case you didn’t catch it, I literally opened this section with a series of puns and led into education about early detection. Just goes to show that while I lack the “standard” two testicles now, I’ve become pretty adept with the pair I do have left – humor and education.
4. Humor is healing
On a personal level, making jokes about my journey helps me process everything I’ve been through and keeps me upbeat even on the darkest days. It’s a form of self-care and how I’ve managed my mental health throughout this trial.
Beyond the mental and emotional benefits, there are some emerging research to suggest that humor actually has physiological benefits, although it’s not recommended as the only course of treatment. The Mayo Clinic has evidence to suggest that laughter can help relieve pain, improve your mood and immune system, soothe tension, and more.
Perhaps Mary Poppins meant that a sweet sense of humor (rather than a spoonful of sugar) is what really helps the medicine go down.
How YOU can use humor as a patient leader
Though I’ve fully embraced the Uniballer lifestyle, you don’t have to remove one of your testicles (or other body parts) to reap the benefits of humor in your work as a patient leader. My expertise lies with testicular comedy, so I’m dropping the ball right now on other comical remarks for other conditions. However, if you think about plays on words, puns, double entendres, and more associated with your area of patient leadership, I’m confident that you’ll hit it out of the ballpark.
Whether you embrace the reasons I use comedy as a patient leader or come up with some of your own, I think it’s fair to say that using humor is an approach that is truly one of a kind….
Much like my right testicle.
Download this Patient Leader Tip sheet for more on the benefits of humor and how you can incorporate more laughter into your advocacy!