HARTFORD, CT, April 15, 2013 – Michael Craycraft was a Division I soccer player, an accomplished skier and someone who was not only physically fit but in the prime of his life. Never did he think that a few years after graduating from college, he would fall victim to cancer.
But sometimes life throws people a curveball and Craycraft, who spoke to a Common Hour audience Thursday, said one day in 2005 he felt a lump in his testicle. At first he was in denial, which segued into fear.
“I was under the impression that I was going to die from [testicular cancer],” he said, not realizing that the survival rate is extremely high when the cancer is detected early. So Craycraft dithered and dawdled and didn’t tell anyone until one day in 2006, he decided to make an appointment with a doctor.
The doctor sent him to a urologist who found two lumps and diagnosed him with testicular cancer, the No. 1 cause of cancer in men ages 15 to 35. Craycraft learned about the various kinds of therapies, spoke with several doctors and connected with a support group of cancer survivors.
“As a young person,” he said, “it was a very lonely, personal and frightening experience.”
It was determined that he had Stage 1 cancer, the least virulent kind. He had his testicle removed, but did not have to undergo chemotherapy or radiation treatments. After the surgery, he was required to see his physician every three months, then six months and then annually.
Craycraft, who is a registered pharmacist and founder of the Testicular Cancer Society, came to Trinity to emphasize to male students the importance of doing self-exams, because the earlier testicular cancer is detected, the higher the survival rate. In 1972, the survival rate was 5 percent; in 2006 it was 95 percent.
“The whole point of my story is that there are 12 million cancer survivors in the United States today,” he said, noting that cancer is not necessarily “an older person’s disease.”
Also speaking Thursday was Deborah Walker, a cancer survivorship nurse practitioner at the Helen and Harry Gray Cancer Center at Hartford Hospital. Although Walker called testicular cancer “a relatively rare disease” that constitutes only 1 percent of all of the types of cancer that strike men, she said there has been a slight increase in recent years. “We’re not sure why,” she admitted.
Walker told the audience that there are no known risk factors for men who come down with testicular cancer, but that they are many myths related to it. Among them are that men who suffer from a traumatic accident, who are bicyclists or who are horseback riders are more prone to getting the disease than others.
Walker said that the main symptoms are a lump or testicular enlargement or pain in the scrotum caused by a collection of fluid. Like Craycraft, Walker said the earlier the cancer is detected, the better the survival rate and the less likely the cancer will have spread to the lymph system or the lungs, the areas of the body where testicular cancer tends to spread. The survival rate for Stage 1 testicular cancer is 99 percent but it drops to 72 percent for Stage 3 cancer
Later Thursday, Thomas Cantley spoke to a group of students by Skype from Canada, where he is now living. Cantley, 29, was diagnosed in October 2009 with testicular cancer while working as a filmmaker and photographer in New York City.
Cantley, who is founder of the Ballsy Cancer Society (www.ballsycancersociety.org), received the news during a routine visit to his physician after months of discomfort and ignoring the symptoms.
As he put it, due to his ignorance, the cancer in his left testicle had spread at a rapid rate, infecting the majority of his lymph nodes. Cantley was quickly immersed “into the emotional journey of painful treatments, endless medications and fighting each day to survive.”
“When I got out of surgery,” Cantley said, “I looked at it as a rebirth.” He concluded by saying that it’s important to break the stigma and to acknowledge that men are vulnerable, in the same way that women had to break the stigma and confront breast cancer decades ago.
“Men need to be more aware of their bodies,” he said.
For more information about the Testicular Cancer Society, please visit: www.testicularcancersociety.org.