Monday, 13 November 2017

Tait doubles down on cancer awareness with new 'Half Sack Sports'

It might be uncomfortable to talk about for many guys, but the alternative is even more uncomfortable.

Dylan Tait knows this all first-hand.

It has been about three years since he went to bed after stopping 31 shots in a 5-3 University of Lethbridge Pronghorns mens' hockey team win over Regina. Rolling over, he felt something different. It was more than post-game pain. After feeling around his groin, he went to the doctor a couple of days later and was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

The 26-year-old's journey has been well-documented.

READ MORE: Teammates work together to fight cancer

Now he's taking the next step in helping those in similar situations, by launching Half Sack Sports.

The group is looking to normalize the discussion about testicular cancer and bring awareness, as the Canadian Cancer Society says it's the most-common cancer in men between the ages of 15 and 29.

"We're trying to create a community and that team environment where guys can come in and talk to us and be comfortable talking to us because we've experienced it, we're probably about the same age as they are and hopefully we're relatable," the former Lethbridge Hurricanes netminder told Canes This Week in a phone conversation Friday.

The motto of Half Sack Sports is "Learn About It, Laugh About It, Play Without It."

"I mean, before being diagnosed, the only thing I knew about testicular cancer was that Lance Armstrong had it," Tait said. "Then I was diagnosed and found out that it's the most-common form of cancer for people my age and I was a bit concerned that I wasn't aware of that."

As it turned out, he would get to know lots about it, as trainer Brennan Mahon found a growth on a testicle shortly after Tait, and a year later, teammate Brock Hirsche was handed the same diagnosis. Tait knows others affected as well, which drives home his points about early intervention.

READ MORE: Pronghorns captain Brock Hirsche facing battle with testicular cancer

"As a teenager or in your younger-20's, you're not really thinking that you could be diagnosed with cancer," Tait recalled. "That was one of the biggest shocks for me."

But things have turned around for him, as he's now cancer-free, having finished chemotherapy about six months after his diagnosis. But he still has regular checkups.

"It ended up not being as serious as it could have been, but there were still points along my journey where I was like 'holy crap, I don't know what's going on with my body and I don't know how I'm going to make it to the end of the year' or whatever," Tait said.

He feels lucky to have had the support system in place that he had, including a girlfriend who he was engaged to a month after the diagnosis. It all ended well, but he found a new appreciation for life.

"That was very eye-opening and that although I am a young man, I do have to take advantage of the time I've been given here," Tait acknowledged. "Surround yourself with the people who are going to support you through these hard experiences because those are the people you want in your life."

And that is what he envisions with Half Sack Sports. Whether it's sharing the stories and experiences, offering up resources, or simply being a sounding board, he believes every little bit helps. While they're not doctors, they can give other supports like teamwork, something not everyone has. For Tait, it starts with an open discussion and an awareness of what's on the line. He's a believer in self-checks and being familiar with your testicles and your entire body.

"Don't wait for anything because it could be a serious problem and acting as soon as possible is very important because there are some aggressive testicular cancer cell types and if you leave them alone for too long, they can cause some serious trouble," Tait concluded.

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