News 3 Anchor Zak Dahlheimer shares story of fighting testicular cancer

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Posted at 10:32 AM, Nov 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-24 23:29:06-05

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - All month long, News 3 has been taking action for men's health, sharing stories from cancer survivors and advocates while raising funds for the Movember Foundation.

News 3 has touched on topics including mental health and suicide prevention and prostate cancer.

For the first time publicly, News 3 Anchor/Reporter Zak Dahlheimer is sharing the story about his recent fight with testicular cancer.

READ: Men’s Health Movember: How to get involved, take action to raise awareness

“Testicular cancer was not on my mind at all,” Zak said of his diagnosis happening in January 2020.

“It's always hard, and it's always difficult, especially in a young man where we thought this was just a run-of-the-mill simple thing, and then, it just wasn't,” Zak’s surgeon, Dr. Kevin Perry, said.

For the last year and a half, Zak has been cancer-free. In the meantime, he’s been seeing Dr. Matthew Milowsky at the University of North Carolina’s Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center for active surveillance.

“It is the most common form of cancer between the ages of 15-40 in men,” Milowsky told News 3.

According to the American Cancer Society, testicular cancer is not common. ACS reports about 1 of every 250 men will develop the disease cancer at some point during their life.

For 2021, the American Cancer Society estimates about 9,470 new cases of testicular cancer were diagnosed and about 440 deaths were reported from the disease.

READ: Testicular Cancer Survival Rates

“I feel a lot of sympathy for the testicular cancer patients,” Dr. Eric Wallen with the UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center told News 3. “They are the ones, these men, who are starting families, who might've just started a new job [or] who might've just moved to a new area. It's just so disruptive in their life.”

Milowsky, Perry and Wallen believe there’s more that needs to be done in terms of raising awareness for men’s health.

“In general, in men's health, we're up against a challenge,” Wallen said. “That relationship between a woman and an OBGYN is a lifelong relationship that goes through all of the phases of reproduction. For men, that doesn't exist. Men are less engaged in preventative health behaviors, and I'd love to change that.”

Dr. Milowsky added they’re also conducting research related to testicular cancer.

“This is a study that we're in the process of getting ready to launch soon at UNC,” Milowsky told News 3. “This is something that hasn't been done before. There are patients who have a more difficult disease course. This type of approach [of] targeting the particular protein using those engineered T cells from the patient can potentially be an avenue to treat their testicular cancer if they're relapsed or refractory.”

“This is going to be a great Thanksgiving because I've got a lot to be thankful for,” Zak said. “One of my mantras, I say, is tough times don't last. Tough people do.”

“I don't want my story to be a story of sadness. I want it to be a story of strength,” he added. “Men's health is something that we really need to start talking about more. Hopefully, me being able to share my story, guys and their families will be able to see this and say, ‘Let's have a conversation.”