It was only three years after Thomas Cantley graduated from VFS’s Film Production program that he heard some shocking news that would irrevocably change his life and burgeoning career as a filmmaker/photographer: he was diagnosed with testicular cancer.
In an amazing display of courage, Thomas responded to this life-threatening disease by filming his experiences for a documentary he could then share with the world — all in an effort to help create an open dialogue about testicular cancer.
Thomas is currently anticipating the completion and release of this feature-length film, appropriately titled “Ballsy”, which will also feature interviews with other men affected by this disease. He recently answered a few questions for us about what drove him to take on such an ambitious and personal project.
Can you talk a bit about the early stages of development on this project? When were you originally diagnosed with testicular cancer and how long was it before you started filming your experiences?
Thomas: I was living in New York City when I was first misdiagnosed on September 15, 2009 with a bacterial infection in my left testicle. As my testicle became more swollen and extremely painful – even after taking the prescribed medication – I was then diagnosed with testicular cancer on October 1, 2009. I had my first surgery a week later to remove my left testicle.
I then found out the cancer had spread to my lymphoids. It was then that I made the decision to capture what I was going through on film. I wanted to share my story, but I also knew it was a way to keep going when I wanted to give up. Having a camera and filming my toughest moments is the most therapeutic way for me to cope as a filmmaker.
I also had to make the decision to move back to Canada when I found out the next step of treatment for my cancer: I was told it would be best to skip chemotherapy and to have a retroperitoneal lymph node dissection (commonly referred to as RPLND), which is a procedure to remove abdominal lymph nodes to treat testicular cancer. The surgery took place on November 16, 2009. I started filming a few weeks before, documenting the preparation and establishing what my life was like before cancer.
Why did you feel compelled to capture such a personal experience on camera?
Thomas: When I started doing research, I felt that there was no information out there. When I was in the hospital back home in Nova Scotia, I met a young guy who was only 17 and was going through the same battle I was. We quickly became friends. He felt alone too — it’s hard for young guys to speak up if they notice something irregular about their balls. I want there to be a platform for men to talk easily about it. This is why I am bringing awareness to a sensitive subject.
What is the biggest misconception about testicular cancer you’ve encountered while shooting this film?
Thomas: The age. People do not realize how early this disease can affect them. The most common age to be diagnosed with testicular cancer is anywhere between 15 to 35. If it’s not caught in the early stages it can spread so fast, like it did with me. Three years ago, 8,000 men were diagnosed with testicular cancer, and about 390 men die of this disease each year. Now-a-days, 40,000 men are diagnosed and 8,000 die each year. It’s a staggering and frightening statistic.
One of the trailers for Ballsy highlights the fact that most men ignore the early warning signs, as you did in the past. What are those early warning signs you’re referring to?
Thomas: Loss of sex drive, and slight enlargement and firmness in the testicle. For months I ignored these signs because there was no pain. It was only when I started experiencing pain that I went to the doctor’s office.
Where do you go from here, both personally and in your filmmaking career?
Thomas: I plan to do more documentary work. It’s my passion and love. Personally, I have grown a lot from this experience, which the documentary will show. I had a different mentality before I was diagnosed. I feel humbled because of this disease.
Thanks for sharing your story, Thomas. We look forward to seeing the film!
Click here to watch the Ballsy trailer on YouTube or visit The Canadian Testicular Cancer Association’s website to learn more about this disease.