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Every day, Thomas Cantley walks six to eight hours pushing around a 6-foot-high inflatable ball. Cantley's goal: to push the giant ball from Santa Monica, California, down the southern coast of the U.S., stop in 11 cities, and eventually make his way to New York City.
But Cantley's journey is no average hiking or cross-country trip. Rather, the ball he is pushing serves a greater purpose. It's a metaphor, meant to raise awareness and money and spread education for testicular cancer.
It's a disease that Cantley himself is a survivor of.
Cantley describes his diagnosis in 2009 as "a turning point." At the time of his diagnosis, Cantley had been suffering from abdominal and lower back pain, but didn't realize that those were warning signs of testicular cancer. He says he never received preventative information, and wasn't even aware of testicular cancer, let alone the warning signs. While a doctor could have helped, Cantley didn't see one until he had to go to the emergency room. He was diagnosed with Stage III testicular cancer, meaning it had spread to other parts of the body besides lymph nodes.
"I had this 'Superman Complex' all these men create," he said. "I was a fashion photographer in New York and I was so self-centered."
Now, Cantley, who has been cancer free since 2010, wants to help other men seek out help, so they can catch cancer early. "I didn't catch it early, unfortunately," Cantley said. "And now I'm using my story to help others. I know there are a lot of guys out there like I was, who are in pain and ignoring it."
According the the Mayo Clinic, testicular cancer is rare compared to other cancers, but is also the most common cancer for men between the ages of 15 and 34. Furthermore, testicular cancer is highly treatable, even if it spreads beyond the testicle.
The survival rate, and prevalence among men, Cantley says, why his journey is so important. And the giant ball (which Cantley has named Lefty), is meant to draw attention. "It's the edge factor that draws people in," he said. "And then we grab them with all this educational material, to raise awareness and support the cause."
While Cantley is traveling, he has strangers sign his ball, offering their messages of support, or memorials and messages to loved ones. Cantley says those signatures on the ball are important on a personal level. "While I'm traveling with this ball, they're traveling with me and helping me through this," he said.
Cantley, who is traveling with three of his friends and two of their dogs, hopes to make it to New York City by October 9 or 10. After that, he's off on a college tour, to visit areas of the country his ball hasn't been able to reach.
In every city Cantley travels to, he connects with other survivors and educates young men. He's also set up a map on his website, ballpush.org, so people can track when Cantley makes it to each city, and set up Twitter and Instagram accounts that people can follow his journey with. Cantley is also attempting to raise $15,000 for testicular cancer research through the Testicular Cancer Foundation.
Eventually, Cantley says he wants to bring his project, and his ball, all around the world, teaching young men that "if you feel something weird, go to a physician, and don't be afraid to ask questions."