17 September 2020
Testicular cancer is most common among men aged 18 to 39. It’s a cancer that men aren’t “too young” to get diagnosed with. Over the past three decades, the rate of this type of cancer has grown by more than 50%.
Although it affects small numbers in comparison to other health issues, it’s important to discuss, especially in communities where the “I’m fine” masculine bravado dominates. Emergency services work, particularly with police and firefighters, the culture is ‘strong is better’ and speaking up it stigmatised.
While there aren’t necessarily higher numbers of police with testicular cancer, the lack of openness and resistance to talking to people is creating a risk factor.
What causes testicular cancer?
The cause of this type of cancer is still widely unknown. It occurs when healthy cells become altered and develop abnormalities. Cancer cells continue to divide and multiply, forming a mass in the testicle.
There are some known risk factors, including abnormal development, family history, race, and age. Yes, it can occur at any age, but it’s most common in young adults. This also means many cases go undisclosed, because the general attitude is that “I’m young, so I’m fine.”
Men who fail to get regular check-ups are at a greater risk of testicular cancer. While there’s no evidence to show that physical injuries (that emergency workers are prone to) increases the likelihood of testicular cancer, it is something to be mindful of. Police officers should get checked if there’s a history of trauma to the testicles. For example, there was pain ‘down there’ after tackling someone to the ground.
Proactivity is the best prevention
At 98%, the survival rate is extremely high. However the real problems occur if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes in the abdomen, pelvis or up into the lungs and liver. For the 30-something police officer, the last thing they’re thinking about is testicular cancer. Men on the front line think of themselves as tough and hold their physical masculinity in high regard.
For men in emergency roles who discover they have testicular cancer, being open with colleagues is essential.
In some cases, when a testicle needs to be removed, this can spur body image issues. It’s important to process these emotions, as it can challenge your perceived ‘worthiness’ to be on the force or out there saving lives. In more severe cases, chemotherapy is necessary, which can directly affect the sense of identity.
Coping with the cancer diagnosis will probably be a greater challenge for front-line workers, for this reason. This is where having adequate health support, beyond the physical treatment, becomes essential. For example, seeing a psychologist on a regular basis to work through identity issues.
The Cancer Council has put together a comprehensive resource that can help you (and others) understand this journey.
Often, life-changing situations like this leads to a sense of empowerment. If there’s one line of work that can benefit from more openness and experiences from people who have gone through, and overcome, personal challenges, it’s policing.
Showing real strength goes beyond just the muscle and capability. It’s being able to overcome tragedy and use your story to help others. It’s why you got into police work in the first place… to leverage your strength and willpower to support others.
That’s the real strength of a man.
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