Math teacher, athletic coach, and cancer survivor, Brett Ruggles is surrounded by his family

Regular, routine health screenings are recommended for all adults, usually beginning at the age of 40. Checks for colon and prostate cancers are standard for men as they age. However, one type of cancer, testicular, is the most common malignancy found in young men, ages 15 to 35. There are no screenings for it and in most cases, there is no pain. Bruce Ricker, D.O. advises young men to “know their bodies and be aware of any changes.” For one testicular cancer survivor, Brett Ruggles, pain and discomfort were what drove him to be checked out seven years ago. The Mt. Ayr High School math teacher and basketball and softball coach said, “I started to feel a lot of pain. As males, we don’t talk about things like this. I kept thinking it would go away. It was January and it was basketball season. I thought I could get through it, but then everything started to hurt.” He went to his doctor and got an ultrasound and a pregnancy test. “Here’s an interesting thing,” he said. “I took a pregnancy test! If it comes up positive, you have cancer. Mine was positive.” Once he was diagnosed, he said the staff at Ringgold County Hospital sprang into action. “I went to the front of the line for all testing,” he recalled. He was quickly scheduled for surgery. “I had to announce to the basketball team that I was stepping away for a week or two. It was a tricky time. That team will always be special to me.”

Brett had Stage One, non-seminoma testicular cancer. After his surgery in January in 2013, he went through two cycles of chemotherapy beginning in early March. Like many cancer patients, he suffered hair loss and almost daily nausea. “On one of the hardest days, I remember I was typing lesson plans. I put my hands on my head and my hair was falling out in clumps. Out came the clippers and we shaved my head. I thought, this is for real.” Even on the darkest days, Brett always felt he could fight the cancer. “I remember getting home and thinking, it’s going to take a bigger bus than this to knock me down!” He missed some school days, games, and parent-teacher conferences. “My immune system was so low. And it was prime flu season at school.” But he has made a full recovery and credits his care at RCH and the hospital in Des Moines along with his positive attitude. “I never thought I would lose this battle,” he said. While he was going through treatment, he ran into author Jon Gordon who had written the book, “Feed the Positive Dog.” “I believe it. You must stay positive and fight. I had a T-shirt made!”

Brett had a lot to fight for. With a wife and three children, a high school full of math students, basketball and softball teams, there are plenty of people looking up to him. He was only 32 years old when he was diagnosed. “It’s usually a young man’s disease,” he said. “I was literally on the outside edge for this.” He admitted that when it comes to these personal types of cancers, no one wants to talk about it. “I take a different approach. I joke about it. I bring it up in class. I talk to my guys about the idea of checking themselves. I tell them that if it doesn’t feel right, it’s not right. I want everyone around me to understand that it’s ok to talk about.”