A testicular cancer diagnosis is challenging enough, but Tim Buckland had that experience three different times. Hear from Tim how he managed this extended cancer journey and now uses his science background to help others in Alberta, Canada.
A testicular cancer diagnosis is challenging enough, but Tim Buckland had that experience three different times. Hear from Tim how he managed this extended cancer journey and now uses his science background to help others in Alberta, Canada.
Surviving Testicular Cancer 3 Times – Then and Now
cancer, testicular cancer, people, treatment, young adults, diagnosed, Alberta, golf, research, cancer survivor, changed, find, surgery, understand, worked, position, Canada, years, life, organizations
00:12 Joyce Lofstrom
Welcome to Don't Give Up on Testicular Cancer for cancer survivors, caregivers, and others touched by cancer to share their stories. The Max Mallory Foundation presents this podcast in honor and in memory of Max Mallory, who died at age 22 from testicular cancer.
I'm your host, Joyce Lofstrom, a young adult, and adult, cancer survivor, and Max's mom. So, this is Joyce, and I'm glad you could join us today. This is to our listeners.
And my guest today is Tim Buckland. Tim is a cancer survivor and has graciously agreed to be with me today to tell his story and more about what he's doing in life. So, Tim, thanks so much for joining me.
01:00 Tim Buckland
Glad to be here.
01:01 Joyce Lofstrom
So, you know, I always like to start out with just tell us about your cancer journey and what happened and when and anything you'd like to share.
01:09 Tim Buckland
That sounds good.
It's been a while since I've recounted this. So, we'll see if I get it all right.
About a week before my 18th birthday, I was diagnosed with testicular cancer. And in the true fashion of being diagnosed that early, I didn't really know what that meant. So, I went through surgery. And then I went through three years of surveillance.
And at the time, I was playing quite competitive golf and quite competitive hockey. And it kind of derailed me on those things.
But effectively, I was at university and kind of continued on with my life. There wasn't a huge impact on me by being diagnosed. And I really just wanted to kind of put it behind me. And three years down the road, I was cancer-free and ready to move on.
Then six months after that, I was diagnosed a second time with a new form of testicular cancer and had surgery, and then, was diagnosed a third time, which is, as you can imagine, fairly rare. But yeah, it all kind of changed very quickly and overnight.
So, after the third diagnosis, the cancer spread. The CT scan showed it in my lymph nodes and in my back. And I ended up going through chemotherapy Etoposide and Cisplatin, which is kind of the standard protocol up here in Canada. For 12 individual treatments or four rounds of treatment.
And that really kind of took me to the end of that initial phase of being diagnosed with cancer. But it certainly kind of changed the way that I look at the world now. So yeah, I'll kind of leave it at that. But that's kind of where my cancer journey took me.
02:42 Joyce Lofstrom
So, I guess, I had a couple of questions.
02:46 Joyce Lofstrom
You were 18. In Canadian school, but you know it just at the end of what we in America; it's high school. But at the end of your education. So, I guess I'm perplexed a little bit that you had the diagnosis, had the surgery, and everything was okay for three years. And just anything you can share with that. I mean, I guess they felt they had it, they got it.
03:11 Tim Buckland
Yeah, well, so in fact, they did. They did the full surgery, and they followed me. And my markers never went up. And three years of surveillance is sufficient generally to determine if somebody is cancer-free. And I was after these three years.
Just remarkably happenstance, I ended up having a new cancer, like it was in the other anatomy that I had left, right. That was the really kind of surprising part. didn't even think you could get it again, let alone within, you know, within five years.
03:50 Joyce Lofstrom
You've been through all of that, which is, I guess quite a bit. That's an understatement on my part. So just talk a little bit about how you got through it all. You had the two surgeries. And so just what next? What happened then?
04:09 Tim Buckland
So, yeah, it's interesting, right? You kind of come to the end of really your sole focus at that point. I was in school, and I was taking biology at the time. And after finishing treatment, I'm like, you know what, I really want to understand more about the disease that has impacted my life so much.
I kind of switched majors at that point and focused on biochemistry, because I want to learn about cancer. And really, I went to my master's program at the University of Alberta, focused on oncology on cancer.
I focused on breast cancer, because really, funding-wise, that's one of the easier places to land. My entire focus switched to trying to understand why this had happened to me, and how I could help others and that's really kind of the direction I've gone since then.
Really, the focus has changed from, you know, focusing on myself and understanding my own situation to try to help others going through similar situations.
05:08 Joyce Lofstrom
So, I want to push it back a little bit to undergrad, and let our listeners know of your academic expertise. Well, I've read about you and know that you are a scientist. You studied, as you mentioned, biology and then switched to biochemistry and then did some research, which I just find so commendable because it's an area that needs research, testicular cancer, and breast cancer.
And I think biochemistry the little bit that I have taken it, which is not much. I always wanted to be a dietitian, and I couldn't get through the science, but biochemistry to me is fascinating what you learn about the body and how it works and everything.
Can you talk just a little bit about some of the research you did, and then we can move on, but I find it fascinating that you could do that.
05:57 Tim Buckland
I'll try and keep this as interesting as possible. But I worked on triple-negative breast cancer. And really my master's thesis was trying to understand why young adults with triple-negative breast cancer had worse outcomes than everybody else. My work really focused on a very specific protein called BAD. But really the bigger part of it was understanding why these people had worse outcomes. So, it was very interesting to learn that side of it. I've tried to apply it to pretty much everything I've done since then.
06:38 Joyce Lofstrom
Okay. So very practical research, then in terms of people who are dealing with that disease, you know, it's surprising too. I've talked with a couple of, one young adult who manages Lacuna Loft, you might know that group. But you know, and just the number of young adults in the country, that are in North America, I'll say, with cancer. I mean, there are many more than we realized, at least I realized.
07:05 Tim Buckland
This statistic goes back I don't know how many years ago, it was about 70,000 Americans and about 7,000 Canadians that are young adults diagnosed with cancer. On an annual basis, that's a ton of people. And it just grows every year.
07:20 Joyce Lofstrom
Right. So, I know you reached out to the organizations that are in Canada for young adults with cancer. Can you talk a little bit about both groups and how they helped you? And what you did?
07:33 Tim Buckland
Yeah, I, I've been involved with a number of organizations in the province or state for Americans. We have the Canadian Cancer Society, which is similar to your American Cancer Society. It's kind of a national organization that does advocacy. And I started a young adult group through them when I worked there, I worked there for three years as a fundraiser, right after my master's program.
And then I had worked with Young Adult Cancer Canada, I don't know a similar organization. In the US, there's Stupid Cancer, which is a huge organization. But yeah, Young Adult Cancer Canada is kind of like an advocacy and support program. And I, I learned a lot through them, just working with other young adults and you know, kind of getting your feet under you.
Because when you get kicked out of treatment, as I like to say, launched back into the real world, it's really tough to talk to people your same age about what you've been through. So Young Adult Cancer Canada really gave me a platform to express myself and talk to other young adults about their situation. And you find out that you're obviously not alone.
And I certainly didn't know the statistics back then on the sheer number of people that were diagnosed, but yeah, it is, is a lot of people every year that you get to meet so.
And then from there, I kind of took some of my educational background, and I worked partially with the Cancer Knowledge Network. So, the Cancer Knowledge Network, again, is an education source for people looking for information on types of cancer, specific topics for cancer. For young adults, often that's a fertility thing or a vocational educational piece. And they're able to tailor the information to their audience, I should say, in a way that I really enjoyed editing articles from people of all different backgrounds. It was also very, very interesting.
And then, I guess, years, years later, I work for the Alberta Cancer Foundation as a program investment person. So that was taking my scientific background and selecting specific research projects, which is kind of what I do now in some respect.
But it's been kind of weird in and out of science, but always kind of keeping my hand on the pulse of the scientific world, just because it was so important to me back then, and something I find incredibly fascinating.
10:02 Joyce Lofstrom
I find it interesting, Tim, that that you were able to coordinate, combine, integrate -whatever verb we want to use, but your scientific background was then related to cancer and young adults with cancer. And I think it says a lot that you, I guess a) wanted to do, but then b) that you did do it and could do it to help others, you know, in Canada with the work that you're doing.
10:27 Tim Buckland
Yeah. Oh, to be perfectly honest, a lot of luck.
10:31 Joyce Lofstrom
Okay, I get that too.
10:33 Tim Buckland
Yeah, like, obviously I had the passion to do these things. But I ended up finding these opportunities that I don't think, normally, people would just run into, right. So even my position now, I'm the only cancer specialist in the entire government of Alberta. And yeah, I was just very, very fortunate to get the position I did.
10:52 Joyce Lofstrom
So, kind of being in the right place at the right time, I guess.
10:55 Tim Buckland
Yeah. As opposed to being in the wrong place with my diagnosis. It's kind of nice to have it go full circle.
11:02 Joyce Lofstrom
Yes, it is. That's a good way to look at it. So, what's your biggest challenge through all these years of treatment or time of dealing with it?
11:11 Tim Buckland
You know, obviously, the treatment is something I look back on and, and see it as being the most difficult. But I think there's a point after treatment for us that are, I am going to say, lucky enough to survive, that you're very alone in the world. And those organizations that I mentioned really kind of bridge you.
So, there's a two- or three-year stretch where I decided I was fine. And I was moving past it. And it was behind me and not realizing the psychological and physical impact that it had on my life. So that's the part that I think is kind of undersold in the world that, you know, this does change you, and there are things that need to be done to actually support these people. So that's the part that I found the hardest. I'm not sure if that's the same for everybody.
12:00 Joyce Lofstrom
Yes, I've talked to other young adults with cancer, testicular cancer. And that was what they said was, you know, being alone, or who could they talk to they had been through a similar experience. So, I think it's a very common feeling universal feeling.
12:16 Tim Buckland
Yeah, it seems to be that way.
12:19 Joyce Lofstrom
You mentioned that you were in school when you first found out. Were you able to continue to go to school? Or did the treatment interrupt it? I'm only asking since that might be interesting to some of the listeners who may have to go through some of these similar types of treatment.
12:34 Tim Buckland
Yes, well, I'll take it all the way back to when I was 18.
So, the surgery itself took me out of school for a certain amount of time, because I need to recover. And it also took me out of hockey, and really later that year, golf. So that by itself, changed my trajectory.
I really just deferred school for one semester and took what we have up here as an accelerated program. So, I was able to, like collapse it back into a single year. And then when I was 21, diagnosed, and I went through treatment, I stepped out of school for an entire semester.
That was based on the advice of my oncologist who's an excellent doctor and gave very, very good information for me to make that decision on. I just wouldn't have been able to do treatment the way that I did and go to school at the same time.
13:25 Joyce Lofstrom
That makes sense. So, I have a question that's, it's really a universal question for whatever part of the world you live in. Did you have trouble finding the right doctor to treat your cancer? Was it easy to find either a urologist or an oncologist, whoever you might have been with, with this specialty? And I'm only asking because I think for some listeners, it might be challenging to know where to go for treatment.
13:54 Tim Buckland
Yeah, I would say that we're very fortunate in Canada, and especially in Alberta, to have the medical system that we do. Now, that doesn't mean that my situation was a walk in the park.
Actually, being diagnosed is by far the hardest part. You have to kind of push primary care to get you into the right diagnostic pathway. So, getting ultrasounds and CT scans and all that fun stuff before you're actually diagnosed. That was by far the hardest part.
Getting referred to a urologist and or a urological surgeon and then on to an oncologist, it took more time than I would have liked. I'm sure it takes more time than anybody would like, but overall, the path was fairly clear for me.
So yeah, I can certainly understand how scary that is to not have that next line of oncology and urology. But for me, I was fortunate to have that setup.
14:53 Joyce Lofstrom
Okay, that's good. Good to know. And I think the thing I learned with my son's testicular cancer as well I mean, I am a cancer survivor too. You really have to do some research and find who's out there and what are the specialty specialties they have.
I think one thing about surgeries like Max had, the RPLND surgery, which is a common surgery for this disease. And, you know, there were some surgeons who are going to have done, you know, hundreds of those surgeries and others who have, and I think, just that kind of information is knowing who you have to find that you're comfortable with and can do the job.
15:34 Tim Buckland
So, totally, yeah, we have a similar situation up here. It’s a little different, I think, just because of how we're set up. We don't go out and select our surgeons, I guess is probably the best way of putting it. They're kind of given to you in a way. But you're right, like finding the specialty surgeons or oncologists or whoever is, it takes research. It takes a lot of mental strain, right on people that already have a lot on their plate. So that for me is one of the hardest things to see is these patients that really just can't give anymore. And they're forced to do this research on their own.
16:11 Joyce Lofstrom
You're right, and it almost becomes a full-time job. And when you're trying to find the right doctor and know what to do. So good to know, though, that you had that and maybe the system the way it works in Canada.
The other question I have, which just came out of a recent interview that I did, and I just wondered what your experience was growing up. This young man who is a testicular cancer survivor said that his pediatrician had emphasized that he needed to do self-exams once a month and to, you know, double-check every month to see if there was anything different. And I wish we had had that, although Max's cancer was not from a lump. But I guess my question is, did you have that experience with a doctor growing up? Anybody encouraged you?
16:59 Tim Buckland
Well, it's really interesting. So, I would say that my doctor was not. However, I've been very fortunate to have medical, let's call them professionals, family members around me my entire life. They've helped me with that sort of thing.
So, my mum being a nurse was the one that really pushed me to check myself. And that was the reason why I was diagnosed in the first place. It wasn't really a push from our medical system, necessarily, but more of a family connection that I'm very fortunate to have.
17:30 Joyce Lofstrom
That's wonderful. Yeah, that's it. So, you found it yourself, the lump. Okay.
17:36 Tim Buckland
You know, Joyce, I want to say that is interesting throughout the world. So, when I was younger and researching this all the time, one of the big pushes out of the United Kingdom was that this was emasculating; that doing self-exams was not the right thing to do for people…because of the rate, right. So, the rates, so low for testicular cancer, that you're really just putting people through an anxiety-ridden kind of procedure that they do on a weekly or however often they do it. And I find that, especially if somebody's going through that, just kind of a ridiculous statement. This can be so beneficial to people. So, I would definitely advocate for people to do it. However, it's often left up to the individual to find that information themselves. So that's the unfortunate part.
18:24 Joyce Lofstrom
Yeah, I'm glad you mentioned that Tim because there's a similar group in the U.S., which I don't have right in front of me. But it's a task force. It's not a government task force, but it's a group. And their recommendation is the same. It's that the incidence at the time this was written, which was 2011, the incidence is so low, that it's not a good idea for anyone to do it - for your patient, for doctors, nurses, anyone.
I read this, and I was like, Oh, my god, who came up with, I mean, you know. Just so much of patient care in maintaining your health is because you advocate for yourself, and you take care of your health. And I understand there may be reasons why people don't want to do it. But I anyway, I am 100 percent with you, Tim, to take that on and try to take care of yourself.
19:21 Tim Buckland
Yeah. I think just knowing your body, especially as a young adult, is important. And if you just take those steps, you're going to be in so much of a better position than if you don't. So maybe the actual testicular self-exam isn't the right thing, but just understanding if things change, however, that's done. I think that's really the most important part.
19:45 Joyce Lofstrom
So yeah, I would agree. It's very personal in nature; each person can figure out the best way for him to do that. So, I think I don't think I asked you this, but we've talked a little bit about some of the challenges. Did you have any kind of…there was a challenge when you heard the diagnosis, and you heard it three different times that I mean, what went through your mind? What was the challenge? I guess maybe it was different each time that you had to deal with this.
20:12 Tim Buckland
Yeah, well, so the first time for sure was the worst. And it wasn't, it wasn't that it was delivered poorly. It was delivered very directly. But my response was pretty much fainting. I almost did. And I think that shock level is just expected for somebody to not expect cancer to happen and, and then, to have it dropped on you all of a sudden.
So, you know, the second and third times were as funny as it sounds, more, more expected. I knew something had changed. I knew what had happened the first time. And anytime there was a change, I knew kind of what was going on, even if I want to be a little naive and protect myself from actually thinking that was the case. But you always had the suspicion that you were going to be diagnosed again. So yeah, it was definitely the first time was the hardest for me.
21:04 Joyce Lofstrom
I'm going to get away from cancer for a moment because I was also very impressed with your sports prowess. I read an article and listened to a podcast that you had done but tell me about your golf. You sound like an aficionado of golf. And I mean, I mean it sincerely. You were outstanding, and I guess still are an outstanding player.
21:27 Tim Buckland
Golf is such an interesting sport because it's one of those sports where it's such a mental game. And I used it really, especially in my third diagnosis and treatment to, like, get through it.
So, like being, you know, fairly good at golf is one part of it, but just the sport itself gave me so much during that time. I ended up playing in a couple of fairly large tournaments after that. And I have a two-year-old daughter, so she's taking me off the golf course now. But yeah, I love the game. And if I could get on the course, as much as possible, I certainly would.
22:08 Joyce Lofstrom
Oh, that's great. Well, congrats on your daughter. That's wonderful to know.
Yeah, I tried to learn golf. And I started later in life, probably late 40s. And I really liked it. But man, I could not get the eye-hand coordination, you know. I didn't practice enough. it's a great game. So, I'm left-handed. I had one pro say use or golf with your left hand and a different one, say golf with your right hand,
22:35 Tim Buckland
To make it as easy as possible for you.
22:39 Joyce Lofstrom
I tried to learn being a left-handed golfer, but I do think it's a wonderful game. So, another question is, and you've kind of answered it. But kind of talk about the biggest challenge.
How about what's changed in your life philosophically? And how you approach things? What's changed?
22:58 Tim Buckland
Yeah, I think it's kind of an interesting trajectory, right. So, when you're 17,18, you're very invincible. And that's kind of when I lost all that very quickly. My, my mindset changed very quickly to on less about myself and more about helping others.
So, as you can see, from my career trajectory, it's been very much on trying to find the best place for me to help other people. And that's really philosophically what I would I hang on to as much as possible. Because I think that's where my perspective and my experience really have the greatest impact. My position has broadened as I've gone through the years but seeing the health impact on people and how the decisions we make at a policy level or at a not-for-profit, or research level, how those actually impact people. So that's kind of how my philosophy has changed since I was 17 or 18.
23:58 Joyce Lofstrom
You know, I think the point on policy is important. I don't think all of us anywhere understand the impact of policy and what that can do to life, any portion of life. It’s good to understand what policy is and does. And then if there is something that you want to change, or update, or whatever the word might be, get involved to try to do that and understand how that can impact people. So yeah, I think that's wonderful that because you are with the government now in Alberta, is that right?
24:38 Tim Buckland
It's an incredible lever that we can use. It's just, it's limited to a certain number of people and a certain number of voices that can actually shape it. So yeah, getting the opportunity to do so and having that kind of impact on society as a whole is actually really remarkable and something I enjoy doing for sure.
25:00 Joyce Lofstrom
I don't think people realize too, sometimes, how getting involved even at your local level like you mentioned a nonprofit. So maybe there's a cancer organization in the town or in the state or the province where you live. Or is there some way you can volunteer with a certain group just to help them, you know, help cancer patients or whatever area?
I mean, I've done that with diabetes. I have diabetes and have volunteered over time. I mean, it's been, it's been two decades since I've done it. But it was important, you know, I did that. And it was really helpful to me, and I enjoyed being involved. And I just think it's wonderful that you can do that. You continue to do it.
You've kind of told us, but any more about what you're doing now? You're working with cancer… work that you're doing?
25:55 Tim Buckland
All those fun things that take up all the time. But yeah, it's funny. So, my role when I was hired by the government of Alberta was really as a cancer expert. And as a cancer research expert in particular.
And that position, especially with COVID, being as big a problem as it is, has been expanded. Now I do research advocacy. And we do a lot of vetting of new technologies. So new diagnostics and new treatments for COVID or anything else that comes to the province.
So, it's been very interesting. But yeah, on a family level, we’ve got the little one running around wreaking havoc in my house. So that's always fun. And yeah, that that by itself has been a huge change. And I think philosophically, I think I'm even more socially conscious now that I've had her than I was before.
26:45 Joyce Lofstrom
So yes, I think that happens when we have children. Because you know, it's a normal transition.
26:50 Tim Buckland
Yeah, you kind of see the future then right before you. It's less about what's happening in generations past and more about what's happening currently. And when you see the little ones growing up, it's kind of changes your frame of mind.
27:05 Joyce Lofstrom
That's a very good synopsis. You're right.
So, my last question is any advice you have for young men who think they might have testicular cancer? Or maybe they're going through treatment now or their caregivers? Any advice you would want to give?
27:21 Tim Buckland
Yeah, there's lots.
Well, I think I think it depends on where you are. So, if you're suspecting testicular cancer, if anything has changed, getting it checked is very important. The statistics on it, if something has changed in that area, and whether or not you have testicular cancer, it almost always means that you have testicular cancer. So that's something that you should go and get checked out.
First and foremost, for people that are going through treatment, I would say that there is an end to the end of the tunnel. They're getting out of treatment and it is kind of a very important step. But there's also the next phase. I would say once you're done with treatment, think about organizations that can support you.
And then for people that are taking care of testicular cancer patients, as I have never really been in that position. However, my girlfriend at the time, and then she became my wife, one of the greatest things that she did was really just listening. But as you know the comments I would have about treatment or the world or whatever, she was definitely a sounding board for me. So, I have the utmost respect for what she was able to do for me and for anybody that's helping a cancer patient through that.
28:45 Joyce Lofstrom
I like that advice on listening. I think sometimes caregivers, and they do listen, but it's also, you want to talk and help. And sometimes he, just that the patient, needs someone just to sit there and be with them and listen as you say,
28:59 Tim Buckland
Yeah, and in particular right now, especially with COVID happening and people not having the breaks that they need.
Caregivers need to take care of themselves too. And I think that is often missed. And then you get caregiver burnout, and people just not feeling as well as they should, not being able to support the people as well as they should because they haven't taken care of themselves. So that is the other thing I would add to that.
29:22 Joyce Lofstrom
I agree. That's a great way to end our discussion.
So, Tim, I really appreciate that you took the time to join me today and share your story and help our listeners with some of the advice that you've been able to share. Thank you and hope to have you back sometime down the road to talk more about your research and what you're doing.
29:41 Tim Buckland
Absolutely, that sounds excellent.
29:43 Joyce Lofstrom
Okay, thank you.
29:44 Tim Buckland
29:45 Joyce Lofstrom
Thanks so much for joining me today on Don't Give Up on Testicular Cancer from the Max Mallory Foundation. We have a website and it's at maxmalloryfoundation.com, where you can learn more about testicular cancer, donate and also send your ideas for guests on the podcast. And for spelling Mallory is m-a-l-l-o-r-y.
Please join me next time for Don't Give Up on Testicular Cancer.