When Byron Lane told his parents he’d been diagnosed with cancer and would soon be down to one testicle, his father didn’t quite seem to understand.
“How many testicles do you have right now?” he asked.
Looking back, it was a relief to have something to laugh about, Lane says, and he managed to put a positive spin on the entire ordeal — diagnosis, treatment, and eventually recovery — by making a comic semi-autobiographical web series about it called Last Will and Testicle.
Then he found out that the cancer had spread and he’d need chemotherapy in what was possibly the worst possible timing: In April of 2020, just a few weeks into quarantine and a few months before the release of A Star is Bored, his novel inspired by his time working as Carrie Fisher’s personal assistant.
But Lane is a relentless optimist, even in the face of a cancer diagnosis and a pandemic.
“My book was coming out in July,” he says, “and I was like, ‘maybe this timing is good.’”
“One, I don’t have a fear of missing out, because nobody’s doing anything,” he told himself. “And two, I have a book to look forward to.”
Now that is some radical optimism, but I’d expect no less. I’ve known Lane ever since we met at a mutual friend’s housewarming party and bonded over our shared love of old-timey Hollywood grande dames. That he was able to provide even-keeled stability in the Fisher household speaks to just how imperturbable he is.
“I don’t know what else I’m supposed to do,” Lane shrugs, looking back on his positive attitude about the last year. “I don’t want to live in a place of suffering and darkness all the time."
Now that he’s recovering from chemo, he’s devoted his time to testicular cancer awareness, reminding anyone with balls to check them regularly. (April is Testicular Cancer Awareness month, and the Movember organization has created a tool with guidance for performing self-checks and connecting patients with support.)
Lane’s advice to anyone concerned about the health of their balls (or any part of their meatbag, really) is to listen to their body, and to not be shy about discussing or prioritizing their health. His doctor initially tried to postpone his checkup due to COVID, but Lane insisted on an exam as soon as possible.
The pandemic added an extra weird layer on top of the already-weird experience, he says. “Everyone’s trying to figure out the rules — do you wear the mask, do you not. You used to be able to bring someone in, a partner or friend. Now you couldn’t.”
But whether or not it’s the middle of a pandemic, and whether your debut novel is about to come out in hardcover or paperback, there’s no wrong time to check your balls for lumps. Or check those of a friend, if you’re looking for an icebreaking activity.
And if you’re feeling anxiety, let Lane soothe your nerves. He’s been through it all. “I could easily turn really pensive,” he says. “I could easily get depressed. But I’ve done therapy for years, and I’m kind of a self-help addict, so I know when I start to feel persecuted or victimized by circumstances, or start to get low, I have a lot of tools in my toolbox to pull me out of it.”
He pauses for a moment, and although we’re speaking on the phone from hundreds of miles apart, I can picture exactly how my friend is shrugging, and I know that someday very soon we’ll have conversations just like this in person again. “And sometimes,” he goes on, “those tools work.”
Head over here for Movember's self-screening and support tools. You can also check the Testicular Cancer Awareness Foundation, which recommends monthly self-screenings, and Johns Hopkins for more expert advice.