Thomas Cantley, 34, has a simple life motto: “Be Ballsy.” But that word has a different meaning for Cantley, who battled stage 3 testicular cancer in 2009. Now cancer free, he promotes awareness about cancer and men’s health.
Cantley, a Woodstock resident, is the author of “Mr. Ballsy Adventures,” a superhero series inspired by his life about a man named Thomas who undergoes an experimental treatment and becomes Mr. Ballsy, fighting cancer with a super-suit and the ability to detect cancer early, among other powers. He teams up with other cancer survivors to fight cancerous monsters.
Episode One, or the first half of the first book, released digitally on Comixology on Nov. 6. The second episode, along with the entire first hardcopy will be available Jan. 1.
The most commonly diagnosed cancer among men ages 15 to 34, testicular cancer is 96 percent treatable if caught early, according to the Testicular Cancer Foundation. That wasn’t the case for Cantley in 2008, who was living in New York at the time as a fashion photographer when he felt some abnormality and discomfort. He didn’t see a doctor for months, until he was admitted to an emergency room in 2009 and it was discovered he had stage 3 cancer.
“People in my stage don’t survive. That was scary,” Cantley said. “If I had gone to the doctor earlier, it probably wouldn’t have been as progressive.”
However, the then 26-year-old did survive after he had his left testicle surgically removed. Later, he wanted to do something to raise awareness about the disease.
In 2013 Cantley quit his job and rolled a giant ball across Canada, where his mother is from and as a trial run for an American cross-country journey. The producers of Wipeout helped him create a 6-foot inflatable with the words “Be Ballsy” for him to push to his next destination, or wherever he could get a ride. The Canada trial took 12 days.
“I said, ‘I’m going on an adventure. I’m going to dedicate my life and see what happens’” he said. “It was pretty amazing to see that I finished something.”
A year later, Cantley started the push across the United States, from Los Angeles back to New York. Over the next three months, he learned people’s stories about cancer as he encountered them on his trip, and they would sign the inflatable ball. He gained media attention for the unique nature of the project from outlets such as the Today Show, Men’s Health Magazine, E! News and Huffington Post.
“Ballsy” has become more than this obscure project, however. It’s become Cantley’s movement to educate people about men’s health, and inspired his comic book series. “I am Ballsy” is tattooed on his right arm; this gets varied reactions from strangers, Cantley said.
“People read ‘I am Ballsy,’ and they think, he’s a tough guy,” he said. “I tell them I’m a cancer survivor and their body language changes. I’m not a tough guy; I’m a guy who had cancer and I want to help people.”
Cantley uses his platform to encourage other men to be proactive about their health. Some of them become advocates for men’s health themselves. For this reason, the cancer survivor feels his experience has helped others.
“Everything has a purpose,” he said. “Maybe I got cancer because there needed to be a voice. I felt like this was my calling.”
Cantley’s main advice to other men is to listen and know their bodies. Get regular checkups and visit the doctor if anything is unusual, he said.
“With men, there’s a stigma where they have this superman complex. We’re supposed to hide things. It’s an issue. We’re told in society how we need to be, we have these roles we need to fit into. They feel like going to the doctor is a sign of weakness, but it’s not. Being proactive about your health is more important, because then you’re thinking about other people and not just yourself,” he said. “If you have issues and you’re not taking care of them, it’s going to affect not only you, but it’s going to affect everyone else around you.”
Writing and illustrations are done by Adam Cozart. The comics, which will total at five, feature characters loosely based on the real Thomas Cantley, his dog, Vader, and other people in his life. They also include educational resources about cancer. Each comic introduces a new hero who battles a different type of cancer.
“We’re making a kind of Justice League,” Cantley said. “It’s very family friendly, very PG. Anyone can read it. It’s very colorful, and we’ve made it cartoonish and bright.”
Although they won’t have specifics until first quarter results come in next week, the comic book creator said the response so far has been positive.
“Cancer survivors are saying, it’s so cool to see someone who looks like me,” he said.
Cantley lives in Woodstock with his wife, Ashley and son, Snow, 11 months old. For more information, visit www.thomascantley.com.