One Man’s Triumph, Part 2
You would think surviving two cancer diagnoses, multiple surgeries, and rounds of chemotherapy would be the end of Peter Laneas’s cancer odyssey. Instead, it was only really the beginning. Because he had bilateral testicular cancer, Peter was effectively castrated. Having both testicles removed has two long-term results: a loss of the main source of testosterone and—to an extent—a loss of a vital part of a man’s physical and sexual identity. That’s an awful lot for a young man to deal with.
“The penis and testicles are the only organs on the outside of the body,” Laneas explains. “There is such a taboo around male genitalia; it’s your manhood, we’re not supposed to explore it. It is what it is. To try to psychologically and emotionally wrap your head around losing one part, if not two parts, of the three leaf clover, what are your coping strategies?”
Laneas was fortunate to have an oncologist who helped explain the mechanics of the penis and testicles and clear up some misconceptions surrounding sexual function from erections to ejaculation and orgasm. However, there was still the matter of the aesthetics. To that end, he was given prosthetic testicles made of silicone. The next issue was how to deal with maintaining testosterone levels. “Typically, men who have one testicle removed don’t need hormone replacement as the remaining testicle can handle the load,” he explains. “Without hormone replacement therapy, men start to take on female physical characteristics, like growing breasts and a change in body shape.”
“Men aren’t encouraged to express all those emotions other than anger or humour.”
There are a number of options for hormone replacement available to men: a pill taken daily, androgel roll on and bi-monthly injections. Laneas chose the needle. To his surprise, the hormone therapy had an unexpected side effect; he became quite emotional. “I don’t think we appreciate what it means, as men, to go through hormonal shifts. When I’m happy, I’m overjoyed. When I’m sad, I’m really sad. I have to be aware and adapt,” explains Laneas about riding the emotional waves that come with his therapy. “It’s one shot every two weeks for the rest of my life.”
While going through the post-cancer treatments Laneas found he was becoming rudderless. He was dealing with emotions and experiences pretty much on his own. He felt lost and without direction. He found there was little support for men dealing with the aftermath of testicular cancer. “Men aren’t encouraged to express all those emotions other than anger or humour,” he says, recalling the time during and after his bouts with cancer. “We’re not encouraged to express our fear, sadness and so on. If you take a look at the majority of cancer support networks available for women— breast cancer, ovarian, anything that’s women-specific—there’s such a support system and advocacy and encouragement where you can share with your sister.”
It was this void in support and camaraderie that propelled Laneas into his advocacy work, sort of. “My initial taste of advocacy, I have to give credit to my first cousin,” he recalls. “She hadn’t told me that she had signed up a team in honour of me for Sunnybrook where they have the Underwear Affair—which is an annual event. This was several years ago and about a month prior she let me know.” His team dressed up as Spartans from the movie ‘300’ with underwear that read: “300 ways…to kick cancer’s…ass.”
“What better way to honour someone than to do something.”
His epiphany came while standing among all of the other cancer survivors. “We were all given these yellow wristbands,” he remembers. “Someone from Sunnybrook said on the microphone, ‘anyone who’s here right now, who’s a survivor, will you raise your hand.’” As Laneas raised his hand, he looked at all of the other yellow wristbands rising in the air. Then he heard, ‘this is who you’re doing it for.’ “I couldn’t stop crying,” he remembers. “I was surrounded by brothers and sisters I never knew and I never stopped to consider that you become part of something bigger when you’re challenged and you live. So, what are you going to do with it?” Get involved. That’s what.
The Underwear Affair led Laneas to the only recognized organization dedicated to the issues of testicular cancer, The Canadian Testicular Cancer Association, also known as TCTCA. He met with its founder, Cheryl Perry (whose son Adam died of the disease at the age of 18). It was his own experience as well as learning about Adam that galvanized him. “It’s such a tragedy that this would happen to such a young life,” he says talking about Adam. “I look at what he stood for and that’s something that resonates inside of me because I realize in another time and another place that could have been me. What better way to honour someone than to do something.”
Laneas worked with Perry and the TCTCA team to create a spokesperson position where he speaks at public functions and fundraising events around Ontario. In this capacity, he educates and informs men and their partners about testicular cancer, screening and treatment. His knack for public speaking—married with his ‘fuck cancer’ attitude—really resonated with people.
These engagements led to a series of television spots and eventually to an agency called Young Adult Cancer Canada. “They’ve got a great new program starting up now in Ontario and Alberta called LocaLife,” Laneas explains. “The idea is that it’s a networking opportunity for young adult cancer survivors to be social. It’s not designed to raise funds but rather is a place where young adults who’ve had cancer can socialize together.” LocaLife helps fill a void of isolation many young people with cancer feel because many people don’t think of cancer as being a young person’s disease.
“Don’t mess around with you body; you’ve only got one. Your health is paramount; you’ve got to go make sure you’re okay. That’s all there is.”
“It’s alarming to look across Canada at some of the statistics in terms of the support programs, says Laneas. “At Princess Margaret Hospital alone, there are well over 30 support programs for many types of cancer groups: prostate, breast, brain, cervical, all these different types, but nothing for testicular. There’s a total of nine programs addressing the young adult demographic across Canada That’s it.”
Aside from young adult cancer support groups, another challenge is finding male advocates. Many men feel self-conscious about discussing male-specific cancers. “It’s too vulnerable,” Laneas explains when discussing the roadblocks. “They’ll get hit with a question and they clam up and don’t know what to say because they are not taught how to do it.” Fortunately, Laneas has plenty of experience in front of a camera and microphone due to his acting career. “I have no problem saying what I feel. I’ve learned how to harness that as a performer, and I’ve tempered it all with cancer.”
Peter Laneas survived bilateral testicular cancer and came out of it with a fire in his belly. His experience taught him to stand up and fight, to take action and educate, to become a force to inspire and inform young men that their health is the most important thing—something young people take for granted. That’s what motivates him. The big message he wants to leave people may be simple, but it’s vital. “Don’t mess around with you body; you’ve only got one. Your health is paramount; you’ve got to go make sure you’re okay. That’s all there is.”
The Canadian Testicular Cancer Association - tctca.org
photo credit: Mirza Noormohamed
, Andrew Vail
, bilateral testicular cancer
, Canadian Testicular Cancer Association
, Cheryl Perry
, Peter Laneas
, Princess Margaret Hospital
, Sunnybrook Hospital
, Testicular cancer
, Underwear Affair
, Young Adult Cancer Canada