Troy Moutsatsos doesn’t mind being the poster boy for testicular cancer. As long as it gets men talking about their health, it’s worth it, he says.
“People don’t feel comfortable talking about it, especially guys, because it’s built into our system, especially as young boys,” said the 29-year-old Sudbury man. “We are told, you have to man up. Rub some dirt in it. That’s all fine and dandy when you’re talking about a little scratch on your knee. But at a certain point, you have to be proactive and take care of your health.”
Moutsatsos is recovering from surgery after being diagnosed with a type of cancer most common in men age 15 to 34: Testicular cancer. He shaved his trademark beard for a moustache as a way to bring awareness to men’s health.
“I really wish men would stop being so stubborn about this and being so shy about men’s health,” he said.
“This stigma, taboo, we can’t talk about mental health. God forbid we talk about our crotch. You have a chance of getting cancer in your testicles or your prostate, talk about it, learn what the signs are, learn about self-examination and when you should be going to see your doctor.”
He said about five months ago he began to experience mild discomfort, accompanied by lower back pain. Practising and teaching Brazilian jiu jitsu, Moutsatsos is familiar with aches and pains in just about every part of his body. So, it never fazed him that it could be something more.
“Then things started to become more noticeable, like swelling and density change,” he said. “There was a visual and physical difference and I realized I needed to call my doctor to check it out.”
Was not taught in school
Moutsatsos said he never learned about the importance of testicular self-examination when he was in school and he’s never picked up a pamphlet or seen a poster about the most common type of cancer in young men.
Moutsatsos said he was compelled to share his story through social media and The Sudbury Star because it is the month of Movember. The health campaign has expanded its focus beyond prostate cancer awareness to include testicular, mental health and men’s health in general.
For Moutsatsos, surgery removed the cancerous tissue and he’s awaiting pathology results to determine the type of cancer and whether further treatment, such as chemotherapy or radiation, is required.
“Especially if you are a young guy like me, it sucks,” he said. “Being 29, I don’t have a family, so there’s that added stress. There are, of course, things we can do. You just want to come out of surgery and have everything solved, but in hindsight, we know that’s not how it works.”
Moutsatsos says he takes it one day at a time. He credits martial arts for equipping him with the resiliency to move past obstacles. And there have been many. Moutsatsos suffered his first seizure shortly before his 14th birthday. He was diagnosed with epilepsy shortly after, which was a major blow for an aspiring athlete.
“It held me back a little bit from reaching my potential, from being the top athlete that I wanted to be,” he said.
Moutsatsos pushed himself but the medication made him drowsy. “It was like trying to swim through mud,” he said.
In addition to the physical limitations imposed on him, Moutsatsos was a target for bullies.
“Once kids find out you have a weakness, they try to exploit it,” he said. “People would make up reasons to hold a flashlight to my face and flicker it on and off. It was awful. That took a big mental toll.”
Moutsatsos said he relied on the support of a few older teammates and a good coach. He worked out to cope. Around that time, he started to explore martial arts, which he described as “a huge saving grace” and he excelled at it, especially under the mentorship of his instructor, Steve Joncas.
Moutsatsos works at the Sudbury Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu full-time as an instructor.
“Even being off mats for one day is tough,” he said. “I want to be there, be with the students and be in that atmosphere.”
Martial arts helped
Martial arts have taught him how to be resilient and how, regardless of your circumstance, there is a lesson to be had, and most importantly, a positive outcome.
“At the beginning of my Brazilian jiu-jitsu journey, just like any sport, you’re not going to be good at it,” he said. “You’re going to be so demoralized, that you are losing. But you are not losing, you are learning. You are essentially learning how not to tap out or end up in a bad situation. You need to keep going.”
In addition to the procedure for cancer, Moutsatsos has undergone two brain surgeries for his epilepsy. Two years ago, he had a frontotemporal craniotomy, which was life-changing — he’s been two years seizure-free. He has since reduced and even eliminated some medications, which has helped with weight loss, cognition and speech.
“Brazilian jiu-jitsu has taught me that the moment that I’m in may suck and be tough but just push through, bare down, hunker down, you’ll get through it and you’ll come back out stronger and better,” he said.
In the meantime, Moutsatsos hopes that by opening up about his health journey, he will inspire others to take ownership of their own.
Testicular cancer is the most common cancer in young men, but the good news is it’s highly curable when detected early. To learn what to look for during a self-check, Moutsatsos recommends the Movember Canada website, his go-to resource for men’s health.
If you or someone you know is diagnosed with testicular cancer, Movember also has information and an easy-to-follow guide, available at nutsandbolts.movember.com.