Thomas Cantley may be the star of the “Mr. Ballsy” comics series, but his real-life “superhero” origin story is a lot more frightening than what most people would read. Cantley, a writer, motivational speaker, and activist, has beat both addiction and testicular cancer. And now, he’s ready to share what he’s learned with an audience of fighters and survivors who may be struggling through their own cancer journey.
Cantley’s life pre-cancer was a glamorous one. A fashion photographer based in New York City, Cantley often shot with a who’s who of top designers and clients, including Project Runway alum Christian Siriano. But the hard-partying lifestyle which often accompanies the fashion industry began to take its toll on Cantley, who said he went down a path of self-destruction. “I was someone living for myself and nobody else, pretty much damaging anyone around me without question or without knowing,” Cantley recalls.
His lifestyle eventually took a toll, and Cantley ended up homeless. Although his girlfriend at the time left him, her connection to a breast and ovarian cancer fighter named Monica Knoll saved Cantley’s life. Upset after learning he was homeless, Knoll went searching for Cantley. She eventually found him, introduced herself, and allowed Cantley to detox in her apartment.
After he began feeling “horrible” abdominal pain and his one of his testicles “grew to the size of an orange,” Cantley went to the emergency room. After some testing, he learned he had stage IIIA testicular cancer, and it had spread to his lymph nodes. “I was described as emotionless, and it didn’t hit me,” Cantley recalls.
“We get our bodies fit, but we don’t get our minds fit.”
A storyteller by nature, Cantley began documenting his recovery and treatment through Youtube, and he quickly gained a following around the globe. One fan, all the way in New Zealand, credited Cantley’s honest videos for helping him catch his own cancer early.
“Immediately, it just shot this thrill through my body. It was like I changed instantly,” Cantley says. “The universe was speaking to me, and that was my drive for my whole mission […] We never met, but he went to the doctor and listened to me because he connected to me and trusted me and went to the doctor. Having that impact on someone else’s life completely shifted my mindset.”
Ten years later, Cantley is cancer-free and has dedicated his life to cancer activism. In 2014, he made international headlines by pushing a giant, 6-foot “testicular” ball across America to spread awareness about testicular cancer, garnering press from the Huffington Post, Men’s Health and the “Today” show along the way.
And in 2017, Cantley debuted “Mr. Ballsy Adventures,” a new comics series he wrote and created. “I didn’t want to write a book about myself,” Cantley says. Cantley stars in the comic and other characters include real-life cancer survivors. “The comic industry is a multibillion dollar industry. Everything comes from a comic or an artist,” Cantley begins. “So I figured I wanted to really work with and come up with something cool that could really reach out to this large demographic, connect with them, but still educate them.”
But Cantley’s biggest motivation right now may be his desire to help “change the mindset” of other cancer fighters out there. “We get our bodies fit, but we don’t get our minds fit,” Cantley says. For the last five years, he’s been in the process of developing a program for cancer fighters. Many fighters struggle with the mental ramifications of a cancer diagnosis and the debilitating treatment process. “Everybody is different. Not one body is the same,” he says. “They don’t know how to channel this energy.”
Cantley’s program aims to help fighters change their mindset from negative into positive. “If you don’t accept the fact that you have it, how can you overcome it mentally?” he asks. “Mindset training is such a powerful thing.”
Cantley aims to unveil the program soon, but until then, fans (especially men concerned about cancer) can catch up with all of his activities online, the same place where he began to build a community around cancer awareness. “A lot of men aren’t proactive, [but] the big thing is not being afraid and really owning up,” Cantley says. “They think showing any sign of weakness is not manly, but being proactive and being ballsy is being manly. You’re owning up to your body and to your health.”