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Triathlete Love: It’s Time To Make An Appointment

One in two men will be diagnosed with some form of cancer in his lifetime, and Susan Lacke doesn't like those odds.

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Susan Lacke’s “Triathlete Love” column appears every month on Lacke gives her humorous take on sharing a house, a life and a race schedule with the man of her dreams—an Ironman triathlete named Neil, who Lacke describes as “Insanely Hot.” (Then again, aren’t all triathletes hot?)

For most men, questions related to their, ahem, “boys” might be a little awkward. They might stammer, blush or even give a disgusted look (“What is wrong with you, sicko?). For my partner, Neil, it’s a normal occurrence. He’s used to me being a little crazy when it comes to health. If I get so much as a sniffle, I’m on WebMD immediately, to print out information on pneumonia, nose tumors and the ebola virus to take to my physician’s office.

But not Neil. He only looks at me when I get worked up into these frenzies, lets out an annoyed sigh, and goes back to whatever it is he’s doing. If you listen closely enough, you can hear him muttering “paranoid much?” under his breath.

I still worry about his health, though. Lately, I’ve been a little fixated on the health of his nether regions. I worry about yours, too. Bear with me here for a second, dudes—I’m going to talk about your frank and beans. Girls, come along for the ride, this affects you, too.

A couple of weeks ago I was in the middle of an assignment, a profile on professional triathlete Derek Garcia. Just a few months ago, Garcia was diagnosed with testicular cancer. In amazing and inspiring fashion, Garcia attempted to race the LeadmanTri Bend over the weekend.

But he also did something incredibly stupid, in my “I’m-not-a-doctor-but-I-watch-a-lot-of-documentaries” opinion. When he first noticed his symptoms, he swept them under the rug. He was in perfect health, he reasoned, and chalked up his swollen testicle to spending too much time in the saddle.

Ignored for months, the testicle continued to swell. But Garcia was focused on an upcoming race, so his dismissal continued. Finally, at his wife’s suggestion, he visited the doctor, where he discovered his symptoms had absolutely nothing to do with how much he was riding his bike. Garcia had cancer and needed to undergo an orchiectomy, a fancy name for “testicle removal.”

Luckily, this story has a happy ending, as evidenced by his now-pregnant wife and entry into multiple races this fall. But what if he hadn’t been so lucky? What if it was too late when he finally went to the doctor?

When I interviewed Garcia’s wife, Shannon, she admitted to being shocked to learn her husband had cancer. She really didn’t think it was possible for him to have cancer, given how healthy he was.

When she told me that, I thought about Neil. He’s the picture of health—could something be wrong without him realizing it?

As athletes, we tend to take our health for granted, believing that eating well and exercising will keep us all healthy for many years. That isn’t always the case. Though a healthy lifestyle definitely decreases the likelihood of cancer, we know that cancer can (and does) happen to even the fittest of individuals.

Female athletes tend to be more proactive about their health, getting regular examinations and calling up their doctors when something’s off. Men, on the other hand, seem to be perfectly okay with the age-old medicinal advice of “rub some dirt on it, thump your chest, and move on.” According to the Centers for Disease Control, they’re 24% less likely to go to the doctor than women. Like Garcia, men tend minimize their symptoms, even rationalize them somehow, until they become too much to ignore. Even then, it can take some prompting from a girlfriend or wife to finally get into a doctor’s office.

One in two men will be diagnosed with some form of cancer in his lifetime, according to the National Cancer Institute. I don’t like those odds, especially when I think about Neil. So long as he doesn’t dump me for writing about his crown jewels in my column, I plan on spending the rest of my life with him. I want to grow old with the guy, because I love him. Also because he’s really good at fixing my bike when I break it, but mainly the love thing.

It’s for this very reason I won’t apologize for being a little bit paranoid, and neither should the women in your life. I won’t be sorry for reminding (some might even say “nagging”) him to make his appointment for a yearly checkup with his physician. And I won’t be sorry for reminding you, too.

Unfortunately, guys aren’t really into the standard “hey, you should go to the doctor” message. But everyone pays attention when you bring a little bit of shock value into it.  I just wrote 700 words about testicles, for crying out loud, and I don’t even have any. Surely you can muster up the cojones to call your doctor and say six not-so-embarrassing words:

“I’d like to make an appointment.”

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