Men's Health Week Spotlight: How one dentist battled and beat testicular cancer

June 8, 2014

It’s a story that isn’t often told or shared, but with this week being National Men’s Health Week, it’s time that the spotlight was shone on testicular cancer.

It’s a story that isn’t often told or shared, but with this week being National Men’s Health Week, it’s time that the spotlight was shone on testicular cancer.

The disease was brought full force into American culture through Lance Armstrong’s battle but it still often lurks in the shadows because of the connotations that go along with it. Fortunately, Dr. John Comisi, a member of the Dental Products Report editorial advisory board, was willing to share his story in the hopes that he would encourage his fellow male dental professionals to take steps to catch testicular cancer at an early stage.

Dr. Comisi was diagnosed with the disease in 1989 and went through chemotherapy in the first part of 1990. During this time, he couldn’t practice and he and his business suffered. He was also told that it was highly unlikely that he would have any children. However, Dr. Comisi battled through the disease and, less than two years after he was first diagnosed, his son Daniel was born.

In this interview, Dr. Comisi sat down with me to talk about his experience with testicular cancer and share his advice to his colleagues.

Kevin Henry: Tell me about your experience with testicular cancer.

Dr. Comisi: It came on very quickly. It was getting near the holidays and I was at the mall walking around and doing some shopping and I suddenly felt some discomfort. It quickly escalated and I couldn’t even walk because I was hurting so bad. I realized quickly that something wasn’t right. This happened over the weekend so I called my physician on Monday. He got me in and I went in on my lunch hour. He checked me over and referred me to the urologist. I was seen the following day, again on my lunch hour. I am sitting in the treatment room and the urologist was examining me and said, “You have cancer.” My mouth dropped. I asked how could he be sure and he stated he had seen enough of these to know from the symptomology that it was testicular cancer. He told me that I needed surgery. I asked when. He said, “now.” I told him I had patients to see that afternoon. He told me to cancel them because I was going in for surgery. He explained that it was important not to put it off. I was there, he had a surgical room was available at the adjoining hospital complex, and he told me it would save my life.

I called my wife and dental team and told them I was going in for surgery. I was in a state of shock and so were they. That was at the end of November and I underwent chemotherapy the first week of January, which continued for several months.

Henry: What was happening to your practice during this time?

Dr. Comisi: Interestingly, the year before I was diagnosed, my dental society found out that a senior doctor suddenly closed his doors and walked away. We found out later that he was very ill and this is how he handled it. We decided not to let this happen again for any other colleague and we formed a “mutual alliance group” based on a similar group that formed in a neighboring county. We wanted to be there to help another dentist keep his or her doors open so that the practice would still have value and they or their surviving spouse could have the opportunity to sell the practice. We all committed to volunteer and donate our time to each care for patients at least one day per month. We all believed that we would use this for one of our senior members in the years to come.

When I was diagnosed, and word spread, this same group stepped in to help me. Beginning in January, there was always a dentist present in my office during regularly scheduled days, worked with my staff to care for my patients. However, even though I had office overhead insurance, I had to take out a loan to pay the bills since it would take a few months to be processed. Without the loans and the group, I don’t know what I would’ve done. Honestly, I probably would’ve gone bankrupt.

Henry: You’re battling cancer and you’re unable to work in your own practice. That had to be a very dark time for you.

Dr. Comisi: It absolutely was. Thankfully, I had a lot of great support. People would come by and deliver cards and visit for a while either at home or when I was in hospital undergoing treatment. That played a big role during a very dark time in my life. There were days I wanted to just give up, but I couldn’t. I guess I’m a fighter and I wanted to overcome the cancer and business challenges. I’m blessed to be able to be here today and say that I did.

Henry: What’s your advice to your colleagues?

Dr. Comisi: You have to understand the reality of the situation. Understand what your insurance will and will not do in the event of sudden illness. When you can’t work, your entire life changes. You also have to practice smarter and take care of yourself. The disease hits men when they’re young. It’s known that the 18-35 age groups have the highest incidence of testicular cancer and that’s a time in a man’s life when he thinks he is invincible. You’re not. Trust me.

Regularly do self-examinations and see your physician annually. Women are always encouraged to check for lumps and early signs of breast cancer while in the shower. Men should do the same thing to detect testicular cancer in its earliest stages. Learn the early signs. When in doubt, have it checked out. Do everything you can to catch this disease before it changes your life.