Ten years ago in a sweaty Muay-Thai class in Brooklyn, comedian Jeff Simmermon received the kick in the nuts that would change his life forever. “Never feels wonderful,” he says, “but it had a feeling and a pain and a craziness to it that’s indescribable. It’s like the whole world went white and sparkly.”
Shortly thereafter, while engaging in one of the male existence’s great pastimes — playing with his balls or, as he describes it, “juggling the homeboys” — he noticed his left testicle felt unusually large and firm. A doctor friend told him to get it checked out right away, and the first specialist he saw a couple weeks later was convinced he had testicular cancer. A second opinion from another doctor confirmed it, and within the week, he was on an operating table getting the offending testicle lopped off.
At the hospital, attendants quickly plopped him in a wheelchair, and shoved paperwork into his chest, asking if he’d like a post-op prosthetic. “I thought they were going to show them to me like diamonds on velvet,” Simmeron says. “The nurse was like, ‘No, no. Just check the box. Do it.’” And he did, accepting the faux huevo.
Such hurried action is typical in testicular cancer cases. Doctors want to reduce the chance of spread via the bloodstream, which can occur swiftly. Generally, when there’s a suspicion of cancer, patients are given a biopsy, but with testicular cancer, such an approach might actually help spread the cancer. Therefore, a recommendation for complete testicle removal, called an orchiectomy, is the way doctors tend to proceed. If the separated testicle is later found to contain cancerous cells, the patient will undergo CT scans, blood tests and more procedures so doctors can decipher whether or not the cancer has spread.
Fortunately, though, the testicular variety of cancer is among the most curable. In fact, it has at least a 95 percent successful treatment rate, with that number improving when the disease is discovered in its earliest stages.
“It’s one of the most common malignancies [found] in a young, otherwise healthy guy,” says Matt Ziegelmann, a urologist at the Mayo Clinic. He explains that for most men it’s just “a bump in the road,” and points out that Lance Armstrong even had testicular cancer spread to his brain, only to survive and embark on a successful cycling career — PEDs aside.
But when a testicular cancer scare begins for one of the 9,610 American men who experience it each year, what exactly might a man expect to deal with?
Here are a few things…
You’ll Almost Certainly Have One Less Ball to Play With… Unless You Get a Prosthetic
Post-op patients can have a prosthetic implanted into their sack, often a silicone rubber shell that’s filled with silicone or saline. The new ball has no true biological function. It’s simply there to fill the void left behind by the removed testicle, and allow rounds of pocket pool to resume after a brief hiatus. (Ziegelmann reports that patients tend to be happy with the prosthetic in the long-term.) If a patient initially forgoes the implant, they can have one sewn in later, though Ziegelmann notes there does exist a small chance of infection, which would prompt a removal of the false family jewel.
Yes, You’ll Likely Still Be Able to Bone — And Even Remain a Genetic Jackhammer
In terms of sperm and testosterone production, “your other testicle picks up the slack,” Ziegelmann explains. Comparing a single testicle removal to the loss of one kidney, he adds, “The body is amazing; our organs have this innate ability to compensate.” There may be a slight, non-impactful reduction in sperm count after going down a single berry, he notes, but he also asserts that, typically, men come out of this surgery relatively unscathed.
Still, You Might Require a Testosterone Supplement
After Simmermon’s surgery, “Things weren’t okay at all,” he says during his stand-up routine about the incident. “I was spending an inordinate amount of time at home, laying in bed with my laptop balanced on my stomach, just watching Cheers reruns on it and crying at the theme song.”
For weeks he ran through the series, watching maybe four episodes a night and sobbing each time the iconic “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” line blared back at him. Simmermon’s girlfriend, observing the new, robust shows of emotion in him, suggested he go back to the doctor, who discovered a problem. “Not only did I have, like, low testosterone,” Simmermon discloses in the bit, “I had, like, Eat, Pray, Love testosterone.”
“If a man ultimately goes on to develop low testosterone,” Ziegelmann says, “we can treat it with testosterone injections, oral medications, topical gels or patches that you put on the skin; you can treat it with little pellets that go under the skin, too.”
Your Mental Health Might Be at More Risk Than Your Ballsack
Losing a teste could be a sizable psychological test. “Some people just never thought about what life would be like without one of [their] testicles until it happens, and that can be burdensome for many men,” Ziegelmann says. “For a lot of them, the genitals are associated with masculinity; obviously, that makes sense from a development perspective, [and] what we tend to see is there’s a wide spectrum as far as the concerns [go], some of which has to do with how you think about concepts like masculinity.”
A redditor who asked to be referred to as “Abram” out of privacy concerns, says he believes his orchiectomy surgeon botched the procedure, and caused some nerve damage, as his scrotal area remains painful to the touch. And so, when it comes to sex, the 36-year-old Los Angeleno writes via email that it “feels like my other ball is getting kicked.” “The physical and emotional trauma makes sexual intimacy difficult at times, as when I feel the pain, there’s a bit of a psychosomatic response and I feel anxiety,” he continues. My ex-girlfriend was abusive and said some horrible things — e.g., you’re not a ‘real man’ with one ball).” He contends that some of his exorbitant promiscuous behavior across the three years since his surgery was carried out “to regain my feelings of masculinity and desirability.”
Another redditor, a 39-year-old Wisconsin man I’ll call “Rick,” says he was stricken with testicular cancer as a baby. His mother had noticed that one of his testicles suddenly appeared overgrown while changing his diaper. Doctors later deciphered that the condition was the result of a tumor, and they recommended a surgery that called for the removal of the testicle and a large incision down Rick’s belly to remove lymph nodes in his abdomen, apparently due to spreading.
He says he was left with an “ugly” scar that led to self-conscious feelings when engaged in activities like swimming that required him to go topless. He found out from his parents at age 10 that the scar was the remnants of a testicular cancer diagnosis, and ever since, he writes, “It’s severely affected my view of myself and masculinity. Even phrases like ‘you don’t have the balls do this’ takes me to a dark place. Because I have one ball, am I not capable of achieving certain things?”
Sexually, Rick has faced off with several embarrassing situations. To wit, once when he was 19, he writes, “[This girl and I] chatted a bit and started making out in the bathroom at a party. I had elastic gym shorts on and she put her hands down my pants and grabbed my cock. It felt so good. Next, she pulled down my pants and got on her knees. She felt my ball and started feeling for another one. That’s when she stopped and started laughing: ‘Why do you only have one ball?’ I didn’t know if I should pull my shorts back up or how to answer. I was completely humiliated and started to cry. She walked out, and I pulled up my shorts without saying anything. By the time I got out of the bathroom and back to the party, she’d already told a few people and they started asking. I left the party and did my best to avoid them for the next two years of school.”
He says moments like these have led to anxiety attacks when sexual intimacy appears imminent. “When I hook up with someone, it’s always terrifying because I don’t know how they’ll react,” he continues. “Some don’t notice, some will say something, some will take their hands and play around and then not be interested. It’s always a gamble. One of my biggest fantasies is getting a blow job and wishing I had two testicles so I could just enjoy the moment with all the body parts a man should have.”
Brandon Daniels, a 35-year-old Ohioan, endured an orchiectomy in December 2019. In its wake, he posted an original drawing of his testicles on Reddit, with an evil-looking tumor taking over the right sack, while the left testicle looks on in horror. The post has more than 127,000 upvotes, and Daniels has emerged as something of a testicular cancer survivor spokesperson, taking to Reddit and elsewhere to offer support to others who’ve experienced a similar ordeal.
Confronting the issue head-on and helping other survivors with their struggles, he says helps him to feel more masculine. “It’s really taken what should have been one of my worst days ever, and turned it into one of the most positive things that’s ever happened in my life,” he tells me.
The same can be said for Simmermon. After all, he got 15 minutes of material out of it. Better yet, on his recent album, he reveals that he turned out just fine — he didn’t even need chemo or radiation. Plus, he now had something in common with a super-famous man: “Me and Lance Armstrong are now riding the same unicycle forever,” he jokes.