Let’s be frank: Many men are embarrassed to talk about testicular cancer. There is unnecessary shame associated with any illness that hits below the belt.
That’s why Anthony Ryan Auld felt it was important to talk about his own battle with testicular cancer when he was cast on the ninth season of “Project Runway” on Lifetime. “If I was going to have such a huge platform, I wanted the story to be told and for people to understand it’s okay to talk about,” he told Healthline. “You don’t have to be embarrassed.”
Auld proudly declares he’s “rocking one ball” these days—the other was removed due to the cancer. The seemingly nonchalant revelation, which he made on “Project Runway,” makes people laugh and puts them more at ease with a potentially uncomfortable subject, according to Auld, who adds, “I think a lot of men handle it the way I handle it—in a kind of funny way.”
And if humor gets people talking, that’s great. But Auld ultimately wants men to take testicular cancer—the most common form of cancer in men between the ages of 15 and 35—more seriously, and he doesn’t want them to allow fear or shame to keep them from seeing a doctor if they notice anything out of the ordinary.
Auld first realized something was amiss with his own body in November of 2008 when he woke up one morning and discovered that one of his testicles was swollen to two or three times its normal size. He didn’t necessarily jump to the conclusion that he had cancer, but he knew something was wrong and immediately booked an appointment with his doctor, who referred him to an oncologist. A sonogram revealed a cancerous tumor in one of his testicles—he had testicular cancer.
While Auld doesn’t know why he got cancer, he notes that was born with an undescended testicle (it was eventually pulled down via surgery when he was a little boy), and the tumor was found in that testicle. Men born with undescended testicles are more prone to developing testicular cancer.
“I was shocked,” says Auld, who was 25 when he was diagnosed with the disease. But he wasn’t necessarily worried about dying—testicular cancer is one of the most treatable and curable forms of cancer. “My fear was, ‘Am I going to be able to father kids?’ I always knew I wanted to have kids, and I didn’t want to risk not being able to have them after the testicle with the tumor in it was removed,” he said. “I asked the doctor what I needed to do about it, and he told me I needed to bank some sperm just in case.”
So Auld made a deposit at a local sperm bank and then underwent surgery to have the testicle containing the cancerous tumor removed. He was in and out of the hospital in a day.
Tests performed on the tumor post-surgery revealed Auld had a form of cancer that is known to spread, and doctors recommended he immediately get a lymph node reduction just to be on the safe side. Auld was fearful of subjecting himself to such invasive surgery—his doctors were talking about cutting him open from the pit of his neck past his belly button—so he sought a second opinion at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Doctors there told Auld that he didn’t need such an aggressive form of treatment and suggested he proceed with chemotherapy only.
Auld took the advice that he got from the doctors at MD Anderson Cancer Center, and he began chemotherapy in January 2009, doing five or six rounds of chemo over the course of about six months. He lost every single bit of hair on his body except for his eyebrows, and he gained about 35 pounds from water retention. But he never got sick like some patients do when receiving chemotherapy. “There was one time I got queasy, but I never threw up. I was always tired. That was my main thing,” he recalled. “My body just felt beat down.”
Despite being exhausted, Auld, who was in his senior year at Louisiana State University at the time and studying apparel design, carried a full-course load throughout his chemotherapy treatment. His teachers were kind enough to work with him on deadlines, and they understood he wouldn’t be able to attend class regularly. “I love fashion and making things, and [school work] kept me busy and kept my mind off all the negativity,” Auld said. “The number one thing that I learned from the whole cancer ordeal was to take a positive from a negative. No matter what is thrown at you, you’ve got to always find something positive to concentrate on.”
It’s now been more than two years since Auld underwent surgery and completed chemotherapy, and he remains cancer free. He makes routine visits to get checked out by his doctor a few times a year—submitting to CT scans and blood tests. He says he will need to be vigilant about the follow-up visits until he is five years out from the original diagnosis.
Looking back, Auld is thankful his cancer was discovered at an early stage. “If I hadn’t caught it when I did, and thought, ‘Oh, it will go away,’ it could have progressed into something much worse,” Auld said. “But I noticed that something was wrong, and I took action right away.”
Now fresh off his run on “Project Runway” (the normally staid Tim Gunn actually cried when Auld was eliminated from the competition) and savoring his good health, Auld has made it his mission to get people talking about testicular cancer—and other types of cancer, too—through his fledgling Rock One Movement. He also took the time recently to design a dress for Lamika Downs, a 13-year-old cancer patient being treated for a form of leukemia at Children’s Hospital in Baton Rouge.
As for his personal life, Auld is engaged to Matthew Day, and they are looking to move out of Baton Rouge and to a bigger city where Auld can continue to work on his career as a fashion designer. “I want to make clothes the average person can afford,” he says, noting that having cancer only made that desire stronger.
When the time comes, he also looks forward to having kids.
And in case you’re wondering about what it’s like to be rocking one: “Everything works just like it did before,” Auld says with a laugh. “I’m just missing a part that I didn’t need.”