There isn’t another two-word phrase in the lexicon of the spoken or written word that strikes more fear into the hearts of boys and men from age 15-40 than that one. It’s not a stretch to say that nearly 100 percent of the male species – if not 100 percent – cringe when they hear the words “testicular” and “cancer” together.
Sixteen-year-old Asa Floyd, who lives in Holden and is a sophomore at Worcester Academy, where he is the starting quarterback on the football team and the starting catcher on the baseball team, is no different.
“I don’t know about every guy, but every guy I know winces when they hear the words testicular cancer,” Floyd said. “When a football player gets hit there or a baseball player gets hit by a baseball there, all the other players react like they had gotten hit there themselves.”
Floyd knows of what he speaks. He was diagnosed with testicular cancer Dec. 28, 2017 and had surgery to remove the tumor on Jan. 2.
“The first question I asked my doctor when he told me it was cancer was, ‘am I going to die?’ Floyd said.
A fair question, to be sure, and one that is understandable after Floyd revealed that he lost his aunt, Tracy (Longvall) Rivera, three years ago to Glioblastoma, a form of brain cancer.
“We were so close; she was like a second mother to me,” Floyd said of his godmother, the sister of his mother, Debbie (Longvall) Floyd. “We were super close. That was a really tough time for me and my whole family.”
Floyd said just seconds after he asked his doctor if he was going to die his focus shifted to the people close to him – most notably his family.
“I was immediately worried about my family and friends; I wanted them to be all right,” Floyd said. “I had already had cancer take someone from me. Usually people don’t ask that question (‘am I going to die?’) with the cancer I had, but just hearing that word, cancer, my mind immediately went there.
”I was just happy it was me that this happened to rather than a member of my family or my circle of close friends,” Floyd explained. “When I got the diagnosis my first thought was to smile and be upbeat to make sure everyone around me was all right; I wasn’t focusing on myself.”
Floyd’s focus on family and friends first comes as no surprise to Rich Agbey, the sports turf manager at Worcester Academy.
“It doesn’t surprise me that Asa’s main focus when he found out he had testicular cancer was on those around him,” said Agbey, who coached Floyd when Floyd was on the football team at the Mountview Middle School in Holden. “He is a young man who is mature beyond his years; a guy who carries himself with great poise at all times. Every time I’m out preparing the baseball field for an upcoming game Asa makes it a point to come up to me and thank me for getting the field ready. That’s just the type of kid he is.”
Two months before Floyd was diagnosed with testicular cancer the 15-40 Connection visited Worcester Academy and conducted an early cancer detection education program.
The 15-40 Connection is a non-profit organization, based locally in Westborough, which focuses on educating people about early cancer detection. The 15-40 Connection helps make individuals aware of how to identify and act on the early warning signs of cancer, including testicular cancer.
While much is still not known about what causes many forms of cancer, preventive measures can reduce risk – but can’t remove the risk completely in many cancers. Research shows that detecting cancer early improves the effectiveness of cancer treatment and improves the chance of survival.
A month after the 15-40 Connection presentation to the student body at Worcester Academy Floyd, while being tackled during a Hilltoppers’ football game, was kneed in the groin. Floyd sheepishly acknowledged that he wasn’t wearing an athletic cup during the game in which he was injured.
“I’ve learned my lesson on that,” Floyd said, “I’ll be wearing a cup at all times from now on.”
The injury caused swelling and discomfort and while Floyd monitored his condition weekly for five weeks he mentioned to some of his older male cousins at a gathering on Christmas Eve that he was still dealing with pain in his groin from the injury.
The conversation was overheard by his mother, who pulled him aside and asked him about it.
“Asa told me that night that (his groin) was still not the same since the injury during football season,” Debbie Floyd said. “I said to him, ‘Asa, that was five or six weeks ago. That’s not right. That injury should have healed by now.’ Asa then told me, ‘yeah, we had a talk at school in October and I’m supposed to tell you when something doesn’t feel right.’”
Asa Floyd said he was monitoring the injury like the 15-40 Connection recommended, he just didn’t act on the fact that the pain did not completely go away.
“They talked about two-week detection when they gave the presentation at Worcester Academy,” Asa Floyd said. “If you feel a lump you check on it every day. If it’s still there two weeks later, you go see someone about it. I waited longer than the two-week period, but I was checking on it every day. The problem was I was hoping I was going to wake up one day and the pain and the lump were going to be gone.”
Debbie Floyd said she believes Asa thought that not-right-feeling in his groin was related to the injury he suffered in November.
“It wasn’t a dramatic injury,” Debbie Floyd said. “Asa dismissed the pain he was feeling and the lump and the swelling as being from the football injury.”
The day after Christmas Debbie Floyd called the pediatrician and scheduled an appointment for Dec. 28. The pediatrician recommended a trip – that day – to an urologist. The urologist immediately sent the Floyds for an ultrasound and blood work. Later that day the pediatrician had the ultrasound and blood work results back.
“The pediatrician said the pain and the swelling was either from an infarction or a tumor,” Debbie Floyd said.
An infarction results from a decrease in blood drainage from a region, a decrease of oxygen supply to tissue or an obstruction which results in decreased blood flow to a region.
“At that point I started researching infarctions,” Debbie Floyd said. “Never in a million years did I think it was a tumor.”
At 3 p.m. on Dec. 28 the urologist delivered news that none of the Floyds wanted to hear.
“He told us the pain and swelling that Asa was feeling had nothing to do with the football injury in November,” Debbie Floyd said. “He told us the pain and swelling was from a tumor they found and that it had to come out immediately.”
Asa Floyd shook his head when thinking back to the events of Dec. 28.
“That was a really long day,” Asa Floyd said. We went to the pediatrician and then to the urologist, and then to UMass for an ultrasound and back to the urologist. I was expecting it was just going to be fluid or scar tissue. I was shocked when the doctor told me I had cancer.”
Asa Floyd and his father, Dan Floyd, were the only ones in the room when the doctor delivered his diagnosis. When his mother came in a few minutes later, not knowing that the diagnosis had already been given, Asa was immediately concerned with how his mother would respond to the news.
“It was a really emotional time when she realized that her worst fear was being realized,” Asa Floyd said. “You never want to see your mom in pain. It was very hard for her emotionally. As we went forward I was checking on her every day. She was by my side the whole time. My main focus was making sure she was OK. I tried to be upbeat about it because I felt like if I showed them I was OK with it that would help them be OK with it.”
Five days later Asa Floyd had surgery to remove the cancerous tumor.
“The day after the surgery the doctors told me they got all of the cancer out during the surgery and that it hadn’t spread to my lymph nodes or anywhere else so I wouldn’t need to undergo chemotherapy,” Asa Floyd said. “They told me they just wanted me to continue to monitor the area and have regular CAT scans and blood tests done.”
Since the surgery Floyd has had regular CAT scans performed and blood work taken. Immediately after surgery those CAT scans and the blood work was performed weekly. Doctors recently told the Floyds that Asa only needs to get checkups every three months.
“They told me my last CAT scan and blood test was perfect,” Asa Floyd said.
Asa Floyd’s journey through testicular cancer was an odyssey for Debbie Floyd as well.
Debbie Floyd learned three years ago when she watched her mother, Janet Longvall, lose her daughter Tracy to cancer the exact definition of what a mother’s worst nightmare is.
“Having to go through this with one of your children is one of the worst nightmares imaginable, that’s for sure,” Debbie Floyd said. “I’m a psychotherapist but I can honestly say during that time period before we knew Asa was cancer free that I don’t feel like my feet ever touched the ground. I felt like I was floating through the world. It felt very surreal. I remember thinking, ‘this is not real. This can’t be happening. He’s going to be OK, right?’
“You learn to rationalize things when you’re in my profession, but those rationalizations go right out the window when you hear about anything happening to one of your children,” Debbie Floyd said. “The benefit of what I know and what I counsel does exist in my head. I do practice it. So when I’m feeling panic I know to say to myself that I’m not really going to faint, that it’s just my adrenalin. I can educate my own mind in times of stress but when that stress has something to do with one of your children all those rationalizations go out the window.”
Debbie Floyd said her son’s testicular cancer was not caused by anything.
“The doctors told us that it was a germ cell tumor; that Asa was basically born with this. It was a cancer that had to do with cells and how they fall apart,” said Debbie Floyd, who said she learned during Asa’s illness that testicular cancer is the second-leading cause in males ages 15-40.
Debbie Floyd said the type of cancer her son had and its location hampers discussion on the subject.
“Anybody that I’ve talk to since this happened to Asa says the same thing – ‘I have a daughter. I knew at some point I would teach her about breast exams,” Debbie Floyd said. “I did not know, nor did anyone tell me or educate me – and I feel like I’m a fairly educated woman – that I needed to at some point find a way to educate my boys on self monitoring for testicular cancer. Now I do.”
One person who has no problem talking about testicular cancer and the need for early monitoring and detection is Asa Floyd.
“I told Asa after the surgery, ‘This is your life, your story. You don’t have to tell anybody about this,’” Debbie Floyd said. “It didn’t even dawn on him not to speak of it. I said to my husband, ‘You have to talk to him; this is a guy thing. This is on you. Does he want to talk about it?’ I can guess it might be a huge thing for a young man but I didn’t know. Asa said, ‘Why am I not going to say it was testicular cancer?’ It didn’t dawn on him that it would be uncomfortable to talk about.”
While Asa Floyd is willing to talk about his testicular cancer he acknowledges talking about it does lead to some awkward, uncomfortable moments.
“It’s weird to talk about but I just want to make sure that people make sure they get it early; that they say something about it and not wait until it’s too late,” Asa Floyd said. “I needed to get myself out of my comfort zone for the good of other people. I didn’t want people going through the mental anguish that cancer causes. Guys with testicular cancer need to get out of their comfort zone in order to deal with it. But, it’s tough to talk about.
“The physical part wasn’t too bad, it was just the surgery, but the mental part really stuck with me,” Asa Floyd said. “I could not focus at school for a month and a half after I found out. I was constantly thinking about it.”
On Saturday, April 14, in conjunction with Worcester Academy’s home doubleheader at Gaskill Field against Phillips Exeter, Asa Floyd, with the help of the baseball team and Hilltoppers’ Athletic Trainer Meg Farraher showed his appreciation to the 15-40 Connection by hosting a fundraiser called “Catching Cancer.”
The fundraiser included information about early cancer detection – supplied by the 15-40 Connection – food, raffles, auction items, a DJ and Worcester Academy’s baseball doubleheader with Phillips Exeter. The 3-2 Hilltoppers and the Big Red split the games, Worcester Academy winning the first game, Phillips Exeter winning the second.
“Our message and purpose for the fundraiser was to educate,” Debbie Floyd said. “As 15-40 says, ‘let us empower ourselves to know what the signs are.’ There was information on how to do monthly testicular cancer exams. The area of the body that we’re dealing with impedes education on the subject. Testicular cancer are two words no male wants to hear in his lifetime. The never want those two words to be together.”
Floyd said one of the many purposes of the fundraiser was to make it more comfortable for young men, especially those in their teens and 20s, to learn more about the disease and the importance of early detection.
“A big reason we held the fundraiser was to make sure people stepped up,” Asa Floyd said. “I had a good friend of mine tell me the other day that he was having pain ‘down there.’ I thought it was good he was expressing himself to me about it.”
Asa Floyd said he has continued to be an advocate for the importance of early detection.
“”I’m still advocating about the importance of early detection to my friends,” Asa Floyd said. “I’m trying to get the word out on social media so kids I don’t know can see it and see the need for early detection. Hopefully they’ll see my story and pay more attention to the need for regular examinations.”
Early returns had the amount raised by “Catching Cancer” at about $5,000.
“The fundraiser started out really small,” Asa Floyd said. “Meg suggested putting out a bucket at home games to try and raise some money for the 15-40 Connection, but then we were in (Worcester Academy Athletic Director Ed Reilly’s office) and started throwing out ideas and it exploded from there. It turned into a huge event.”
Included in the event were Asa Floyd’s “Mimi” (Janet Longvall), mom Debbie, dad Dan, his 14-year-old sister Kiely and nine-year-old brother Benjamin.
“I think the fundraiser was such a success because Meg and I received so much support from Mr. Reilly, (Associate Athletic Director) Julie Berberian, (Head Athletic Trainer) James Mili and Coach Mac (Head Baseball Coach James McNamara),” Asa Floyd said. “Coach Agbey painted a purple ribbon (the logo for testicular cancer) on the field – April is testicular cancer awareness month – and I wore purple eye black in honor of the event.
“The entire school supported the event 100 percent,” Floyd said. “It was a great day.”