Testicular cancer is extremely common. In fact, it is the most common type of cancer in men ages 15-39, is as prevalent in young men as breast cancer is in young women, with nearly half of all cases occurring in men ages 20 to 34. If caught early, survival rates are high. If not, it can quickly spread to other areas of the body such as the spine or lungs. As it occurs in the testicles, signs are often ignored or undiscussed. While conversations about testicular cancer are starting to become more and more common, the volume on those conversations needs to be raised considerably.
Rocco Buccheri understands this better than most. A two-time testicular cancer survivor, he knows how lucky he is to be alive — and how important it is to be both vigilant in checking your testicles for abnormalities and quick in the way you respond to the warning signs. Now, a father of three and Treasurer of the Testicular Cancer Society, Rocco works to spread awareness of the disease. He was happy to tell us his story — and urge men to speak up when concerns arise.
I’ve been a cancer survivor for 11 years now. It’s hard to fathom, that at 34, it’s already been that long. But when I was a senior in college, a few days before my mom’s 50th birthday, I felt a lump on one of my testicles.
I didn’t think that it was anything too big. But it also didn’t feel right. I was in my primary care doctor’s office within 24 hours. He looked at it and suggested I talk to a urologist. Two days later, the urologist told me I had testicular cancer. I was only 22. Men at that age think they’re invincible. But I wasn’t.
My thought was: I was going to go to the doctor and he was going to tell me I was fine and I was going to go have dinner for my mom’s birthday. But, he had to explain to my parents, yeah, Rocco has cancer. I literally handed the phone to my doctor when I called my mom. I told him that I couldn’t tell her. That he had to.
The good news is that on that day, the doctor said that my survival rate was at 90 percent. He explained to me that as long as I had one testicle down there that everything would function fine and that I’d be able to have kids.
That Friday, I had surgery to remove my testicle. After that, my tests showed that the cancer had not spread. That was the best news I could have ever gotten. The treatment plan was to just do follow ups. Every month for the first year, I was getting cat scans, blood work, X-rays to make sure that there was no recurrence. In the second year it was every other month. In the third, it was every quarter of a year and so on until you hit five years. After that you’re given a clean bill of health and you can move on with your life.
But about three years later, I felt a lump on my other testicle. At this point, I had met my wife. We were dating. We were looking for houses to buy, I had the engagement ring ready to go for when we were in the house together. These were really happy times. We did the inspection on our home and that next morning is when felt the new lump.
I went to the doctor. He explained to me that being a bilateral testicular cancer survivor is incredibly rare. There’s no explanation on why I got it twice other than I was just unlucky. I knew that I wouldn’t have any sperm to have kids.
I decided to go to a local reproductive center. I froze my sperm. That was the only way to know that I could have children down the road. I had the surgery and found out again that the cancer did not spread. That was great news. It was a huge relief.
I’m proud to say that nothing came up again. That was eight-and-a-half years ago.
Today, I go through testosterone replacement therapy. I do what is called a subcutaneous pellet. Every four months, my urologist basically inserts small little pellets — they look like prescription pills — under my skin. Those pellets release testosterone for a three or four month period. It allows me to function as a normal man.
Having kids is the second volume of my story. Really, this is my wife’s journey as well. After everything settled down, we did end up buying the house. I was given a clean bill of health and the treatment plans. I proposed a year later; we were ready to start our life. We enjoyed a couple of years of being married without kids. But because of my cancer, when we decided we were ready to have kids, we had to go through IVF.
We did research. Unfortunately, we found out that neither of our insurances covered IVF. We had an upfront cost of something like $15 to $20,000 just to try to have children.
The biggest delay in us having kids was us trying to figure that out. Getting to a place where we were financially secure enough to spend that money to try and have children. Once we got there, it was more of a journey for my wife than anything. She had to take medications, including daily ones for about a month and a half, to help really get the eggs going. We were very lucky. We ended up having a total of five very good embryos. One of our embryos took, and in June of 2014, my son Joseph was born. In 2017, our twins Julian and Sofia were born.
I look at them every day and think about how incredibly lucky I was to go through my cancer experience and know that I have three healthy and amazing children. I count my blessings every day.
When I think of my own cancer, and my story, I just want men to know that they shouldn’t think they’re invincible. I know a lot of men that would feel that lump and say it’s nothing and then move on with their lives and go ahead and continue school, do work, and remain the young ignorant man you are that you are in your early twenties. If you feel something down there, do not think twice. Go call your doctor.
Ultimately, my quick reaction saved my life. If I had waited a month, six weeks, or a year, that cancer would have spread. It would have been in other parts of my body. The outcome could have been very different. I waited less than 24 hours and within a week, I was having surgery. That, to me, is the most crucial thing that I learned.
I also want men to not be afraid to talk about it. Early on, when I was dealing with this, I never opened up about it. I had about four friends in my immediate family that knew what I was going through. That included both diagnoses. So I was very secretive. It’s hard for men to talk about that area of their body openly with other people. So I didn’t talk about it — and then I actually had the opportunity, through my oncologist, to be interviewed through a local TV station a few years ago, after Joseph was born and before the twins were born.
They were looking to do a segment on men with testicular cancer. Then the Testicular Cancer Society reached out to me. I learned through that how much I can impact people and how just sharing your story helps other people know that there are people out there that have gone through this too. Sharing and being vocal about your health concerns, as a man, is an important thing to do, because most men internalize it.
I feel like a driving force of why we don’t talk about testicular cancer as much is because there is this sense of masculinity. It’s hard for men to say, for lack of a better term, ‘I’ve had my balls removed.’ It’s funny for me to say it eight years later, but at times I was sensitive about it. When people made jokes about me without knowing my story, I’d think, ‘dude, you have no idea.’
I think that really is the driving force on why it’s not talked about more. It is the most common cancer for men between 15 and 34. It should be something that we see out there. There should be more awareness of it. It hits us very young, and it’s generally a different age demographic than people who are normally dealing with cancer.
Men are afraid to talk about this stuff. That’s the driving force as to why so much of this is shrouded in mystery. And it’s not just cancer. Men don’t talk about a lot of things that can end up killing them.