Justin Michael O’Connor

September 26, 1989 – August 1, 2014

Justin passed away on the night of August 1st, 2014 after losing his battle to testicular cancer. He was surrounded by his loving parents, siblings, grandmother, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and countless cousins. This memorial was created in his honor.

testicular cancer is the leading cancer in men age 15-44

SAVE YOUR LIFE. SELF-EXAM.

Step 1) Cup
Cup one testicle at a time using both hands. Best performed during or after a warm shower.

Step 2) Examine
Roll each testicle between your thumb and fingers using slight pressure.

Step 3) Get Familiar
Familiarize yourself with spermatic cord and epididymis, the tube-like structures connected on the backside of each testicle

Step 4) Check for Changes
Check for lumps, changes in size or irregularities. Remember, it’s normal for one testicle to be slightly larger.

If you notice a lump or any changes as mentioned above, you should seek medical advice and schedule an appointment immediately.

Remember testicular cancer can spread very quickly but when detected early it is one of the most curable cancers. Save your life with regular self-exams and inform your dudes to do the same.

Our family was not aware of testicular self-exams until Justin’s diagnosis in 2013. What’s worse, is Justin had never been instructed on the need to perform them either. It is now our mission to make sure everyone knows of the importance of testicular self exams, how to perform the exam properly and removing the stigma/taboo regarding talking about it. Self exam and spread the word.

Nothing taboo about saving a dude™


TESTICULAR CANCER INFO

Testicular cancer is on the rise and can affect any male from infancy to the elderly. An estimated 9,310 will be diagnosed in 2018.

The highest rate of diagnoses are males between the ages of 15 and 44.

Largely due to the lack of awareness and early detection it is estimated 400 deaths will occur in 2018.

That’s 400 too many.

Testicular cancer is a disease in which cancer develops in one or both of the testicles. It occurs when germ cells experience abnormal growth. Germ cells, like stem cells, have the potential to form any cell in the body. Normally these cells lie dormant until sperm fertilizes an egg. If germ cells (a sexual reproductive cell) become cancerous, they multiply, forming a mass of cells called tumors that begin to invade normal tissue.

Testicular cancer can metastasize, meaning that it can spread to other parts of the body. During this time cells leave the original tumor from the testicle and migrate to other parts of the body through blood and lymph vessels, forming new tumors. Testicular cancer spreads most often to the abdomen, liver, lungs, bones and brain. Testicular cancer can spread rapidly and is deadly if left untreated.

Testicular cancer has a very fast onset. If not detected early, the cancerous tumors can grow rapidly with the ability to double in size in just 10 – 30 days.

Statistics can be found on cancer.gov

“They think its cancer.”

I remember when Mom called from the hospital and spoke those four words. I remember the instant fear, the body trembles and the immediate response that it’s impossible. “He doesn’t have cancer, Mom.” 

Turns out the doc was right and within 24 hours my little brother was in surgery.  Within days he was undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatments at the same time.  By the second week the throwing up, nose bleeds and body shakes had begun.  By week three his hair was falling out. For the first time in my life, I witnessed my always healthy, never sick baby brother start to weaken and that broke my heart.

If you knew Justin, you know that he had a high tolerance to pain.

When he was five years old he broke his hand in three different places, finished his school day and came home happy as a clown. My mother immediately noticed his swollen, black/blue hand and asked him what had happened… his reply; “Oh, it’s nothing Mom. I just fell off the monkey bars.” 

Needless to say, it was something and he was in a cast for three months

I remember another time he was playing in our back yard and fell. When he did a branch went into his hand. In true Justin fashion, he calmly walked up to our father and said, “Hey Dad, look at this.” Once again, we were headed to the hospital’s emergency room.

As Justin got older, he got stronger. He had unbelievable strength and loved to show off. So to see him all of a sudden sick and weak and hurting was something I had never experienced.

Most people, especially young people would immediately be angry and question God, “Why Me?” I never heard Justin say that. Justin was never angry. He was fearful in the beginning but then that fear turned into determination. 

I’ve heard it said that most people with cancer are treated with three-four months of chemotherapy. Justin fought his way through eleven months of chemotherapy, three radiation treatments, and two stem cell transplants.

It seems to me and the rest of my family that he had angelic-like strength. It hurts me to know that he survived all the excruciating treatments just to be taken from us due to pneumonia and lung damage caused by one of the chemo drugs.

The only thing that gives me comfort is the fact that I know the moment he took his last breath here, HE TOOK HIS FIRST REAL BREATH. He was no longer a cancer patient. He was restored in every sense of the word… physical, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

This last year Justin showed me what it means to be truly courageous.

I will never understand why Justin was taken from us at such a young age. I cannot see the larger picture that God sees and why this was necessary. The only thing I can do is trust that God is in control and praise Him for loving Justin so much that he couldn’t bear for him not to be in Heaven any longer.

I am so thankful that God knew we needed time to get ready to say goodbye, to be able to bear the pain of a life without him, a chance to tell Justin how much he meant to us, a year to reflect on the fact that you cannot take people for granted.

Justin was my baby brother and I have seen this past year how much of an important role he played in our family. I sometimes took Justin for granted – he was the baby and he liked to goof around a lot instead of focus on work which we argued about consistently. When he got sick last August and was too weak to function… I immediately, saw how much Justin did contribute because I and my other siblings had to pick up the slack and perform the duties he no longer could.

I immediately felt extreme guilt for not being more grateful and appreciative of him. But he was 23 and I figured we had at least 60 more years together. The thought never once crossed my mind that something would or even could happen to Justin

So, there’s another lesson learned; we are not promised tomorrow don’t wait to tell someone how proud you are of them or how much they truly mean to you. Don’t wait as you may miss the opportunity. Life is short and not promised. In an instant, everything can change.

While I will never understand why Justin had to suffer through cancer… I can see where God used Justin’s circumstances and a positive attitude to bring strangers to a knowledge of Christ and to heal broken relationships.

In the past year, I have gained another brother, a sister, a beautiful niece and two adorable nephews. Justin was able to bring them back into our lives after fifteen years of separation. My relationship with a very dear aunt was restored. And for the first time since we were all kids, I have these amazing relationships with my cousins!

You all have been incredible and have stood by us throughout this last year. I’m not sure we would have survived it without your love, support and endless prayers… and for that, we will forever be thankful.

You were all very dear to Justin and you brightened up his day with your countless visits and encouragement.

Justin, you are not gone from us.

You have taken an incredibly large piece of our heart but you replaced it with pieces of your own.  We will remember and cherish all of the memories you gave us.  As your siblings, we will forever miss our rides in Dad’s truck when it was just us… and you’d crank the radio to max and begin screaming the song out the window and dancing like a dork. We will miss our walks to the store to pick up dinner. We will miss you sneaking into the kitchen every time our back was turned and stealing food from the skillets. We will miss your random text messages and the silly (borderline disgusting) pictures you would send us. We will miss our constant bickering. Our talks about everything and nothing. Your phone calls especially the ones that started out… “You’re not going to believe what I just found out but don’t tell anyone I told you.” –most of the time it was something we all already knew but it was hilarious to hear the excitement in your voice and how you couldn’t wait to tell us. We will miss introducing you as our baby brother and the feeling of pride when doing so. We will miss your eyes. Your laugh. Your hugs. More than anything we will miss you.

leave a love note

Have a favorite memory with Justin, want to leave a love note for him or his family or maybe you’re just missing him and want to write about that… feel free to do so here.  

Remember together.  Heal together.

love notes

Missing you so much today and always, Just. Not a day passes you aren’t thought of. I can finally speak your name without sobbing. So much has changed. I wish you were here to experience it all with us. The void your absence has created will never be filled; for now, I take solace in the fact that my brother is one of my guardian angels.

Love, Jess

We all went to the Intracoastal tonight to celebrate your 30th birthday and we made floating wreaths and put fresh flowers in the water. Of course, I made your wreath with green and yellow carnations for your Green Bay Packers football team! We love and miss you, Justin, so very much! Happy heavenly birthday son.

Love, Mom

I can’t believe it’s been 5 years since you left this world behind. I think about who you would be today if you were still here with us. How much craziness you and my boys would get into. The love you would have for your new nephew. I named him after you and he’s going to know how amazing his Uncle was. I love you with all my heart.

Love, Jenny

#justinstrong