Testicular cancer survivor raises funds, awareness with humor

May 27, 2022
a man running in a race in a tree lined park wears an unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt and floppy hat and grins for the camera while gesturing to the runner next to him
Michael Wiegand runs for two reasons: To prove to himself that he's healthy, after surviving testicular cancer, and to raise awareness and money for research. Photos provided

Testicular cancer is a young man’s disease: The average age at diagnosis is just 33.

Michael Wiegand was on the younger side of that average, 24, when he was first diagnosed. Now 30, he’s dealt with two bouts of the cancer.

Although rates of testicular cancer are increasing in the U.S., the good news about this cancer is that it has a 95% five-year survival rate.

Wiegand isn’t quite at the five-year mark yet, but he’s running full-tilt toward it. After undergoing chemotherapy at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center in 2018 and being declared cancer-free, Wiegand has successfully run a marathon, some half-marathons and a number of distance races.

It’s both a way to prove to himself that he’s healthy and a way to raise money for cancer research – as a fundraiser, Wiegand makes and sells tank tops that cheekily proclaim “Besties for Testes.”

“I have competed in races as both an individual and as part of a team with these shirts to help spread awareness and get the message across. And believe me, there’s not too many people that I have seen that haven’t taken a second look when you’re wearing a shirt that says testes,” he said.

a man runs triumphantly under a sign that says Rochester Marathon 
Michael Wiegand has run in several races since surviving testicular cancer.

He’s now training for an Ironman Triathlon in July, and when he started looking for some shorter swimming competitions to prepare, he came across the Charleston-Kiawah Open Water Swim presented by Swim Across America. The charity swim, taking place June 12 along the shoreline of Kiawah Island, raises money for Hollings – more than $200,000 since 2018.

Though he’s since moved to New York, where he’s a quality control scientist at Regeneron, Wiegand immediately knew he wanted to participate.

“Hollings and MUSC were a significant portion of my mid-20s,” he said. He was a doctoral graduate student in the lab of MUSC College of Medicine’s Jeremy Gilbert, Ph.D., when he was diagnosed the second time, and he was treated at Hollings, undergoing four grueling rounds of chemotherapy. He also ended up being admitted to the hospital a handful of times because of the side effects.

"Not a single person at that center ever let me lose hope, and all of my nurses made sure that they were in earshot when I finally rang that bell."

Michael Wiegand
cancer survivor

Wiegand said he’s grateful to so many people he encountered at MUSC – from Gilbert, who encouraged him to focus on his health first and foremost, to the clinical care teams in the inpatient and outpatient units.

“Not a single person at that center ever let me lose hope, and all of my nurses made sure that they were in earshot when I finally rang that bell.”

Throughout treatment, Wiegand said, he was itching to get back to physical activity. His doctor, Theodore Gourdin, M.D., consistently counseled him to take it easy.

“He was a great sport about everything,” Wiegand said.

Now there’s no slowing him down.

Wiegand has a simple message for other men: Don’t be embarrassed.

“You always have to monitor your health. Finding a lump in your testicle is certainly a shock, and there’s lots of different things going through your head because you don’t definitively know what it could be,” he said. “Ultimately, I think you just have to not be embarrassed because no matter what the outcome is, I don’t think that you could ever regret going to the doctor – I certainly don’t.”

Wiegand found the lump that led to his first cancer diagnosis because he had seen a talk show segment encouraging men to regularly check themselves. This wasn’t something he’d ever learned in health class, but he started doing monthly checks, he said.

His diagnosis, he said, led all of his male friends and family to check themselves as well. He hopes that speaking up will encourage more men to be aware of this aspect of their health.

“No matter how embarrassing or uncomfortable the situation appears to be for yourself as a young male, you should always just find the strength and courage to seek help.”