When Kyle Johnson turned 20 last month, he didn't exactly have the kind of birthday he had hoped for. Johnson found a lump in his scrotum, and thanks to an awareness campaign held by the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) and the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, (SJHL) he knew to seek medical advice.
The next day on August 12, (his birthday) the Estevan Bruins forward was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Needless to say, he was shocked by the news.
"It tossed me back. I didn't really know much about it, and I just thought, 'This can't be happening.' Really, all I could think about was how it would affect the hockey season and how it would affect the Bruins and myself," he said.
After having some blood work, Johnson went for an ultrasound, and when the radiologist saw the lump, he sent Johnson to see a specialist, who booked him for immediate surgery.
Johnson says he feels fortunate that he was educated by last hockey season's campaign to raise awareness for testicular cancer and how it affects young men his age. As part of the campaign, a video was produced in which SJHL players were quizzed on their knowledge about the disease.
"I'm a young guy and I watched the video just to see my what my buds had to say, but honest to God, that's the reason I went and got checked out. It had an impact on me and early detection is what saved me," he said. "It's something that everybody has to be aware of, especially athletes like me and guys my age."
Just last week Johnson was given a clean bill of health. He still has follow-up treatments and blood work to be done, but the doctors don't think he'll have any more occurrences.
"It's flown by and it's been an absolute whirlwind. I got really good treatment and I'm really impressed with the way the hospital helped me out," said Johnson. "If you look at someone like Mandi Schwartz or Luke, (Boechler) the goalie from Yorkton, that's serious."
Both Schwartz and Boechler have been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. Schwartz has been in and out of remission, while Boechler was scheduled to have a long-awaited blood stem-cell transplant last Friday.
Johnson is back playing hockey again, but he says his experience with cancer has opened his eyes.
"Obviously I see things differently now. But fortunately, everything happened so fast and it didn't really sink in because I always had a positive outlook from the doctors who were saying that I was in as good shape as I could be, so I just handled it the best I could and I feel great now," he said.
Johnson's Bruin teammates voted him in as an alternate captain before last week's season opener, which is obviously something he is very proud of.
"We have ten 20-year-olds on the team so to get one of those letters shows me that the players on the team respect me," he said.
Even though his battle with cancer is, for the most part behind him, Johnson wants men his age to understand that something like this can happen to anybody, and people need to be aware of it.
"You have to be aware of your anatomy, and you don't want to be the hero, thinking that nothing could ever be wrong," he said. "I never would have thought in a million years that I'd end up with testicular cancer or even a threat of having it, so check yourself and if you feel something different, go see a doctor."
For more information on the CCS and SJHL's fight against cancer, visit www.cancer.ca/sjhl.