Cal Yordt—Guest Writer
For every 1 in 250 men, testicular cancer is a reality that takes its toll on them. This statistic became all too personal for the Dordt University football team this year as junior offensive lineman Carter Baldwin was diagnosed with the cancer this past summer.
A few weeks before classes started at Dordt, Baldwin went to see a doctor for symptoms of back pain, fatigue, nausea, and diarrhea. This visit revealed a mass on his right testicle and prompted a quick scheduling of surgery the next week on August 12 to remove the testicle and, along with it, the cancer.
Baldwin told only three groups of people about the surgery: his parents, best friend, and the football coaching staff at Dordt. These people were his biggest supporters. His parents were there for him despite the four-hour distance that separated them for most of the time. They wanted to give him the space to handle things on his own, but still guide him through it.
On the day of surgery, only one his parents were allowed in the room at a time, due to COVID-19 protocols.
With five days removed from the surgery, Baldwin returned to campus to attend practice. Still recuperating, he acted as an extra coach. Off the field, his best friend and junior offensive lineman Bryce Simnacher was his shoulder to lean on. He was always there for him.
Simnacher recalls telling Baldwin, “You just got to grind this out and fight through it. It isn’t going to be easy, but me and the rest of the team are going to have your back.”
Baldwin was concerned with how his teammates would think of him.
“I wasn’t sure if I was going to be looked at as weak by them, but that was definitely not the case.” Baldwin said. “Once news was broken to the team, they were very supportive and at the end were able to crack jokes with me about it.”
Eventually, Baldwin was cleared to lift weights above ten pounds and worked his way up to football activities. He participated in rehab multiple times throughout the week with limits to his lower body workouts. For Baldwin, this whole process of returning to the field was very tiring but all worth it to regain the normalcy he once lost.
He pulled inspiration from Eric Berry and James Conner—NFL athletes who had and beat cancer of different types. But his biggest motivator was his grandpa, who fought cancer like crazy and beat it.
“My body felt like complete crap, and I was always very tired.” Baldwin said.
His coaches pushed him and made sure he conditioned in order to whip him back into the shape he needed to be in. He recalled just how fast the four weeks went by that it took for him to be back in shoulder pads, and how he felt like his peers respected him for that. Both his head coach, Joel Penner, and his O-Line coach, Aaron Mingo, had high praise for him and what he overcame.
Both Penner and Mingo were worried at first that Baldwin was trying to come back too soon but were pleasantly surprised at the progress he made.
“When Carter told me he was going under the knife, the first thing that I thought about was how much I cared about him.” Penner said. “We also joined in prayer that everything would go well, I knew this adversity would be a time that his faith would grow.”
Much like Penner, Mingo wanted Baldwin to know that he was there to listen. He also wanted Baldwin to dive into his faith during this time.
“I told him to use this time to put his trust in God, and just control the ‘controllables’,” Mingo said.
For most cancer survivors, their biggest concerns are the likeliness of the cancer spreading or returning. At two months removed from his surgery, Baldwin began experiencing “PTSD symptoms”.
He started feeling the same symptoms that led to his diagnosis. They scared him. He used the counselling sessions provided by the university to help work through them. Baldwin also worried about how his diagnosis would affect his future—such as having kids. He was also concerned about if he would ever be able to play football again, or at least at the same level he used to.
“Sometimes cancer is death to an athletic career.” Baldwin said.
Through it all, Mingo has been inspired by how Baldwin has put trust in his teammates.
“Watching Carter lean on his teammates during this time was encouraging to see how the brotherhood really exists among the team,” Mingo said.
Baldwin’s journey is far from over, he has more follow up appointments to come. But for now, his focus is to become the all-conference player he was before cancer sidelined him. Before he does that though, he hopes to help the Defenders in their first-ever playoff berth this weekend.