For the second year in a row, all of the men in the Key Biscayne Fire Department took part in “Movember” — an annual campaign to raise awareness for men’s health issues, such as cancer. While some of them had participated in years past by growing out their mustaches throughout November, they had a personal reason to do it as a group now — fellow firefighter Tom Dunfee.
Last September, what Dunfee thought would be a routine check-up with a urologist turned out to be a positive diagnosis for testicular cancer.
“I went to the doctor by myself because I wasn’t expecting any news, and then I had to go home and tell my wife I had cancer,” said Dunfee, a Key Biscayne firefighter. “I held it together in the doctor’s office, but when I tried calling her on the way home, I couldn’t get the words out.”
About six months prior to Dunfee’s check-up, he began feeling a dull pain in his left testicle.
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“The pain wasn’t bad. It was something I had been living with for a few months,” Dunfee, a Key Biscayne firefighter, said. “I’d feel it and then forget about it.”
It took some convincing from his wife, but he went to get the pain checked out.
One week later, he was scheduled for an emergency removal.
A man’s chance of developing testicular cancer over his lifetime is 1 in 270, but survival rates are high, according to the American Cancer Society. The average age at the time of diagnosis is 33. Dunfee is now 34.
Testicular cancer can be treated with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy or a combination of the three. Dunfee underwent surgery and had the option of undergoing chemotherapy but chose not to.
“My biggest fear was to be handicapped in some way, and for the chemotherapy to affect my lifestyle outside of work,” he said. “I didn’t want to be sick and weak.”
Dunfee has been cancer-free for a year. He sees his doctor every two months for blood work and X-ray, and he gets three CAT scans a year. If there was one positive thing to having cancer, he said, it was that he is now healthier than he has ever been.
“I’ve always been active, but when I found out about the cancer, I completely changed my diet,” he said. “I mess up once in a while, but as a rule I don’t eat sugar or processed foods.”
In a show of support for Dunfee, all the male firefighters in the Key Biscayne Fire Department grew out their mustaches last month.
Dunfee registered his team of friends, family and colleagues on the Movember website and raised more than $4,000.
“Anything that has to do with men’s health and the health of our firefighters, we support,” said Deputy Chief Marcos Osorio.
Dunfee stressed the importance of going to the doctor for regular check-ups and looking out for symptoms. Some signs of testicular cancer include lumps or inflammation, pain, heaviness or aching in the lower abdomen or scrotum and breast growth or soreness.
“I was lucky that it was a treatable cancer and it didn’t spread,” he said. “Get checked.”
Movember is over, and the mustaches are starting to come off.
“This thing is probably coming off tomorrow,” Osorio said.