Photojournalist Dustin Malama credits comedian Tom Green’s public battle with testicular cancer with saving his life.
In 2000, Malama followed Green’s story as he televised various steps of his treatment for testicular cancer. Green (photo to the right) presented a comedic spin on the experience, but the seriousness of the situation left an imprint on Malama.
“Seeing Tom Green go through it, I realized [testicular cancer] is a young man’s cancer. It had gotten into my brain to always check myself,” he said.
The then-21-year-old made it routine to do self exams.
It was during a self-exam 12 years later that Malama discovered a lump. His doctor recommended a sonogram, which confirmed the lump was a tumor.
Unlike other types of cancer, testicular cancerous tumors cannot be biopsied. If sliced or punctured, the cancer can easily spread to other parts of the body.
Because of this, Malama had to have the testicle removed so the biopsy could be performed. He was told that if the tumor was non-cancerous, the testicle would be reinserted.
After waking up from anesthesia after his surgery, he was told the tumor was in fact cancerous and the entire testicle had been removed.
Testicular cancer comes in many forms but fortunately, Malama had pure seminoma – the most treatable and curable cancer with a survival rate above 95 percent if discovered in early stages. Malama was diagnosed at stage 1B, which means the cancer had not spread beyond the testicle.
Because the cancer was caught early, chemotherapy treatment was optional for Malama. After witnessing its effects on other family members with cancer, he declined the treatment and instead continued to be vigilant with checkups and self-exams.
Now at 34, Malama has made steps to live healthier compared to his 20s lifestyle. Coincidentally, he started making some of the changes months prior to his diagnosis. He made a conscious decision to kick his pack-a-day habit, and one year later, he’s happy to be both cancer and smoke-free.
Moving forward, Malama’s goal is to work on his weight and become more physically active.
It’s natural for a cancer diagnosis to affect your outlook on life, but Malama has always considered himself to be a “here and now” kind of person.
“I still struggle with worrying about the past and regrets and having anxiety about the future. But I have always been the kind of person who looked at my stage in life and the people in it at the time and appreciate the moment while it’s there,” he explained.
Understanding that early detection is key, he always urges coworkers, friends and family to visit a doctor if they notice anything that might seem off.
“You’re not just doing it for you,” he said. “Do it for your family and those who love you.”