Although he’d recently met his future husband, 2015 already felt like a challenging time for Byron Lane.
His career was not where he wanted it to be, and pursuing his dreams to become a full-time author and screenwriter was proving difficult.
Then life threw Lane a curveball.
“I was at the toilet peeing,” the 43-year-old says via a Zoom call. “I was feeling a testicle and I felt something hard, the size of a pea. A few weeks later, I felt again and it was like the size of a marble.”
Lane saw a urologist, who confirmed his fears: it was probably testicular cancer although they wouldn’t know for sure until they’d removed it.
“So that’s what we did. When he took it out, he said the cancer was contained.”
The doctor explained they could do surgery and chemotherapy, with the latter improving the chances of the cancer not returning.
“But he said ‘the chances [of it returning] are so low, you probably don’t need chemo.’ So I chose not to.”
Lane had his testicle removed and replaced with a silicone prosthetic. He says he noticed no difference in terms of sexual function or anything like that. However, the diagnosis and surgery still shook him.
“It was a really scary time,” he says. “I was not thrilled with my career at the time, so it felt a little like a lot was piling on me. And suddenly I had to put life on hold to deal with this.”
Carrie Fisher and balls talk
Lane originally grew up in New Orleans. He moved to Alexandria, Louisiana, to pursue a career as a news journalist, and spent a couple of years in Las Vegas as a reporter, before relocating to Los Angeles.
He worked as a news writer and then as an assistant to Carrie Fisher for a couple of years (“I miss her so much. My time working with her was truly life changing”). That experience inspired his first novel, A Star Is Bored. It was met with fantastic reviews when published in 2020. He and his husband are now based in Palm Springs.
Once he received his testicular cancer diagnosis, Lane felt himself go into a “military-like, let’s-solve-these-problems mode.” Still, the word “chemo” terrified him.
“And once you start thinking ‘I only have one testicle’, suddenly everyone’s talking about balls all the time!” he says, rolling his eyes.
“‘He doesn’t have the balls to do that!’ That’s a phrase that implies that you have to have two balls to be really brave. And then being gay, and body image stuff … it did stir up a lot of things.”
Last Will And Testicle
Lane says despite the grim diagnosis, there were unexpected moments of humor.
For example, when he was a kid, he suffered a torsion (twisted testicle), which required treatment.
“So when I called my dad to tell him I had testicular cancer, he couldn’t remember whether the torsion resulted in me having a ball removed back then. He was like, ‘Wait, how many testicles do you have right now?’ And that made me think: maybe this is a comedy.”
To give himself something to do beside dwell on worst-case scenarios, Lane made a web series, Last Will And Testicle, about his experiences.
“All my friends joined in. I did a Kickstarter and people were really generous. I tried to make the best of it by making art of it, and that was also very helpful for me.”
After surgery, Lane was given the all-clear. Relieved and happy, he moved on with his life.
“Things were going great. My husband and I just moved to Palm Springs where we were writing full time. It was a dream come true.”
However, Lane began to notice a pain in his hip when walking.
“Then Covid started happening so things began shutting down. I had a regular screening with my oncologist in Los Angeles, and they called me and said, can we cancel because covid is happening, and we’re pushing all our appointments.
“I said, and this is rare for me, ‘Actually, I’ve been having some weird symptoms and I want to ask the doctor about it.’ They said ‘Oh, OK, come in’. It’s unusual for me to speak up like that, and I’m glad I did because we did another scan and there was a growth there. A tumor had grown in my lymph nodes.”
The cancer had returned and Lane had no other option but to undergo chemotherapy.
“There was a lot about it that I didn’t know or understand. Chemo is basically a week of getting intravenous medicine, and two weeks to recover, and then another week, and you go every day, sometimes for six hours a day.”
Chemotherapy and all-clear
The process inevitably led Lane to ponder his own mortality, “but also there were so many beautiful, lovely moments. I think it brought my partner and I closer together. I met other people, people in chemo who were much older than me and much sicker than me, who had great attitudes.”
One lady, “would knit all the time, and one day she came out to me and knitted me this rainbow beanie, cos she said I looked like I could use some color … So it’s hard for me to look back at it and think that it was all terrible. Yes, it was gross, but there were also some lovely moments.”
The chemotherapy proved physically grueling. Lane feared having to go through another round but it thankfully wasn’t necessary.
“They did a scan after the chemo and the cancer was gone. There was still the mass in my side, but the chemo killed the cancer, so now it was just a question of removing the mass. I found a guy at USC [University of Southern California], and he did my operation and pulled it out. I am officially cancer-free.”
Besides his YouTube series, Lane is now working on a second novel. He’s also been working with the men’s health organization, Movember, to help raise awareness about testicular cancer. The disease is the number one cancer among young men, yet the majority of us don’t regularly check ourselves for lumps in our balls.
Movember produces an online guide, Nuts and Bolts, to help answer questions about the treatment. When caught early enough, testicular cancer has a 95% survival rate.
Lane says talking about his illness was healing: “Finding the humor in things is helpful. And for me, I just wish there were more moments in life when everyone was more open and honest about everything.”
He says it would help if people could talk openly about testicles, “without a giggle.”
“Some people don’t like to ask too many questions because they fear that maybe I’ll be embarrassed, but I think the more we talk about it, the better.”
When it comes to offering advice to others, Lane keeps it short and simple.
“Take your health seriously, Check your testicles. It takes five seconds. And if something is suspicious with your body, ask for help. Don’t be afraid to bring it up with your doctor. Listen to your body and take care of yourself.”
Find out more about Byron Lane at byronlane.com.