This is Darwin. Darwin is a curious, energetic, sock thieving 10 month old puppy that my girlfriend and I picked up back in July of last year. As you can probably guess by the picture, this dog is quite the people charmer. DISCLAIMER: I might be a bit of a biased puppy parent. Upon meeting you, Darwin will wag his tail uncontrollably to the point where he loses control of his entire backside, before finally plopping down at your feet demanding belly rubs. He’s not much of a guard dog, but that’s what locks on your door are for, right?
Darwin has lived a pretty great life so far, and I’m almost positive that he has more likes on Instagram than I do. Back in January however, my girlfriend and I had to grapple with a pretty big issue: neutering. In case you haven't read your dictionary lately, neutering is “the process where they remove the entire or a portion of an animal’s sexual organs.” We were talking about removing my little fur buddy’s balls – a pretty traumatic experience in a little puppy’s life.
When talking about getting him neutered, we asked questions like how will this affect his growth? Will his personality change? What if he (we) wanted puppies one day? I was actually very scared about someone operating and removing a part of him, even though there were many very good reasons for him to get neutered. But how could I do this to my little puppy? Much to my own surprise, this experience really got me thinking about my own experiences with having balls removed and how it has impacted my life.
On July 12, 2006, at age 18, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. The next day was a flurry of activity where I had to store sperm, meet with doctors and undergo emergency surgery to remove my left testicle which had grown to 16 x 8 cm in diameter. This was an incredible shock to me as a healthy young man, and like any cancer patient’s journey, I had my good days and my bad days. One of the worst days was when I was 23; I had been remission for 4 and a half years which is just 6 months before I’d be clinically considered “cured” of cancer when they found a second lump in my remaining testicle. What that meant was that like father, like puppy son, I had also grappled with the traumatic issue of having balls removed. The interesting thing is that I remember asking myself the EXACT the same questions that I was asking when my puppy was getting neutered, with the exception of “having puppies” being “having children.” I remember the mind of my 18 and 23 year old self flashing forward to what my life might look like after cancer, and these thoughts ranged from I’ll never be able to put on muscle, I’ll never be able to have good sex again, through to some more depressing thoughts like no woman will ever love me and I’ll never be able have children and carry on the family name. I think we all have a tendency to think about what the worst possible outcomes might be when faced with a situation like this – I know I certainly did – but slowly I began to learn that those thoughts were completely unrealistic.
So the real question I’m sure you’re all asking by now is, what is life actually like having no balls? If you ask Darwin, he is still living an incredibly fulfilling and cushy puppy lifestyle, complete with impromptu tug-o-wars over stolen socks and plenty of belly rubs. He is absolutely the same incredible dog as the day we got him, and nothing that I see or feel about him has changed at all. If you ask me, life has been great. Since my second testicle was removed, I’ve gone on testosterone therapy and have been steadily putting on muscle, found an incredible girl who doesn’t really care about my more “aerodynamic” package, and have since learned that having children is definitely not an impossible feat through procedures like in-vitro fertilization. It has even led to my personal motto of “it takes precisely zero balls to make difference.” Life on the other side of having your testicles removed, for both of us, has been completely normal, even though it might not seem like it will be when you’re in the moment.
Personally, I think testicular cancer survivors can take a page from our canine compatriots when it comes to dealing with the removal of testicles. Many male dogs live long and happy lives bringing joy to everyone around them without the need of testicles, and that’s exactly how I intend to go about it as well. If I were to go back and give my 18 year old self some advice, I think it would be don’t panic, look at the cute puppies and pay attention - you might just learn something.
Happy International Puppy Day, and in the words of Bob Barker “help control the pet population - have your pets spayed or neutered!”