Jono Ly was young, fit and living overseas in the picturesque French city of Bordeaux with his partner when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer three years ago.
He was lucky enough to get on top of it early after going to see a doctor as soon as he noticed something was wrong, and is now in complete remission.
According to leading men’s health charity Movember, testicular cancer is the most common cancer in men aged 15 to 39.
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But the overall survival rate of the disease is about 95 per cent — excellent odds for men who get on top of it early.
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Jono, now 31 years old, is sharing his experience in the hopes of reaching other young men who may feel embarrassment or shame regarding the health of their sexual organs.
“(I just want to) help raise awareness regarding this because it is a young man’s disease … and it’s just something that men don’t really talk about or get taught to look for,” he told 7NEWS.com.au.
Diagnosed amid a global pandemic
Jono and his partner Amelié had been living in Amsterdam but decided to move to the famed wine region in the southwest of France in 2020.
They were only due to be there for a short period time so that Amelié, who has a French background, could get her citizenship.
Life seemed to be going well for the then 28-year-old, despite the fact that he and his partner had been caught up in the COVID-19 pandemic, and now had to stay in Bordeaux for longer than planned.
However it was during the once-in-a-generation global health crisis that Jono first noticed something was wrong.
While showering, he found a lump on his right testicle.
“It was only like a couple of millimetres across, like a small hard lump, like a little pea,” the now 31-year-old told 7NEWS.com.au.
“I sort of sat on it for about two days and then I was like, ‘You know what, I need to go get this checked out’.”
Jono was referred to a specialist doctor who delivered some shocking news — he had stage 1 testicular cancer.
Jono was treated by doctors in France. Credit: Supplied
Being so young and on the other side of the world during a global pandemic, Jono said his diagnosis was “not the easiest pill to swallow”.
“As you can imagine, it was pretty overwhelming,” he said.
“All these thoughts rushed into my head. I didn’t have health insurance at the time, my visa had run out, I was like ‘what the hell am I gonna do?’.”
Thankfully, Jono was supported by the French government, who were willing to treat him and cover his medical expenses.
Less than a week later, he was booked in to have his testicle removed, a daunting prospect for the young Australian.
“I was like ‘OK, holy s***, here we go, I’m about to lose part of myself’,” Jono said.
Despite a successful operation, follow-up blood tests showed there were cancer cells floating around in Jono’s blood.
The cells were starting to multiply at an alarming rate, and he was told they could attach to other organs such as his lungs or brain.
Jono was told he needed to start chemotherapy.
“(It) was super anxiety inducing,” he said.
“Understanding what chemotherapy entails and having seen it happen to some family members of mine and, you know, friends and things like that it was shocking to hear that I would have to go through that.”
Jono underwent chemotherapy for over three months. Credit: Supplied
He spent the next three-and-a-half-months undergoing treatment and enduring the many challenging side effects that come with chemo.
Thankfully, the gruelling eight-hour days in hospital having the drugs pumped through his body were worth it.
Jono was cancer-free, and eventually decided to return home to Sydney in March 2021 on a government-organised repatriation flight.
Shame and embarrassment
As of today, Jono is still in complete remission.
He’s now a community ambassador for Movember, a charity which encourages men to grow a moustache during the month of November and raise money for testicular cancer, prostate cancer and men’s mental health.
Jono said he was lucky to catch his cancer early, before it had time to spread, but that many other men weren’t so fortunate.
“I‘ve heard, and there’s other ambassadors out there, (who have had testicular cancer that then) moves to (their) stomach and you know, (they) have to receive radiation,” he said.
“(I heard) horror stories from some of the doctors in France telling me some guys would come in with their testicles the size of a grapefruit, and they’d be like ‘why haven’t you done anything about this sooner?’.”
Jono said there are potentially feelings of embarrassment and shame that men experience when having to think or talk about the health of their sexual organs.
Cancer-free, Jono is back to doing the things he loves and has a newfound appreciation for his body. Credit: Supplied
A man’s level of “manliness” or “manhood” is often centred around his sexual organs, Jono said.
“Especially as a young man, growing up there’s so much rhetoric and identity surrounding your sexual organs,” he said.
“Like even rhetoric like ‘where’s your balls mate?’ is kind of subconsciously damaging in a lot of ways.
“Going into an all-boys school that was very much the vibe. It was, you know, so much of your identity was around literally your testicles.”
Speaking on his education at school, Jono also said one of the biggest problems is that young men aren’t told nor taught how and why to check themselves for testicular cancer.
Movember recommends doing a testicular self-examination once or twice a month.
The charity has an entire section on its website with a step-by-step guide to self-examination.
“(At school) we were told none of this, even in sex-ed, no one was taught to check themselves at least once a month,” Jono said.
Following on from his experience with cancer, Jono said he has a newfound appreciation for his body and its ability to heal itself.
“It is a beautiful vessel that we have, and I was always caring for it but even more so now knowing that it can go through so much like chemo and go through the wringer and bounce back,” he said.
“The way I view the human body, it’s an amazing thing.”
Men interested in joining the Movember fundraising campaign can sign up through the charity’s website.
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