When people describe Julia Blair, the word “shy” is never used.
“Determined” – yes. “Passionate” – probably. But “quiet” just doesn’t apply.
Her laughter rings out easily and she knows her sense of humor is one of her sharpest skills, so she’s put that to work to protect her family.
Her husband and two sons, specifically. And every other male on the planet, if she has her way.
Blair is the driving force behind “Save Our Balls,” a slogan she displays proudly on royal blue shirts that she sells, along with wristbands and delicious cupcakes.
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And yes, those are the balls she’s talking about. Simply put, Blair wants to use humor to bring as much awareness to testicular cancer as “Save the TaTas” has brought to breast cancer.
“ ‘Save the Ta Tas’ rocks my world; it’s funny, it’s clever and I thought great, we as women feel ourselves up once a month, sometimes more,” she said. “You’re gotta have a laugh every so often because that awareness is out there and we know that it’s something we can pay attention to – not control, but we can pay attention to. I know a lot of women, a lot of friends and family members who have found lumps and got it taken care of right away because of that.”
When her father was diagnosed with renal carcinoma a few years ago, Blair hit the internet to research treatments and alternative therapies. As his cancer spread, doctors recommended chemotherapy, but offered little hope. He is currently on an alternative therapy, something that is taxing her parents’ somewhat fixed income.
Something else she learned while she was researching different cancers was that testicular cancer is a problem just as widespread and dangerous as breast cancer, but nobody talks about it – even doctors.
“I looked at my two boys, they are 8 and 11 and said wait a minute, they might be a little young for it, but nobody’s going to talk to them about it,” she said. “Unless a pediatrician has actually gone through having a patient have it, they usually don’t address it.
I’ve asked my friends who have boys, does your pediatrician ever talk to your kids about testicular cancer and that they can do a self-exam? No. Then there’s something wrong.”
Experienced in marketing and outreach, Blair started “Save Our Balls” as a humorous way of raising awareness and funds for both education and to help families who might be having trouble financially with treatment costs, as well as supporting nonprofits such as the American Cancer Society, the Prostate Cancer Foundation and the Sean Kimerling Testicular Cancer Foundation (named for the sports anchor/announcer for the NY Mets who died of the disease at age 37).
A percentage of everything she sells – the aforementioned T-shirts, wristbands and cupcakes, and more items she has on her website (www.saveourballs.org) – goes directly to the charity.
“We’re not a 501c3 yet, but if there’s an attorney out there who wants to help us become one, that would be fantastic,” Blair added.
On Wednesday, Blair and her family were holding court in a corner of Chili’s restaurant in Canyon Country, where a percentage of the profits for that day were going to Save Our Balls. An earlier fundraiser at the Chili’s in Valencia brought in more than $400; early estimates for Wednesday’s event are around $225.
At this point, every penny counts.
“When you start something out, you wonder how people are going to accept it,” she said. “I’m finding out the humor factor works. I have heard more stories about teenage boys with testicular cancer. I’ve heard them survive, I’ve heard them not, I’ve heard parts of their journeys of what they’ve gone through. Especially with younger boys, when they start examining their bodies and are embarrassed, they’re afraid, they think they’ve done something wrong, and they don’t want to say anything to mom or dad, the doctor – are you kidding – until it passes being easy to fix. So as those stories started coming out, I knew I was on the right track.”
If anything, she’s succeeded in getting people to talk about it. Working the social networks like Facebook and Twitter, Julia and “left nut” husband Stu have spread the word and started chipping away at making the issue conversational instead of uncomfortable.
“Most people really get it, they think it’s amusing, they know that one of the ways we’re attacking this subject is through humor. I worked a long time in corporate America, and we were always told to keep a straight face, you must not laugh, you must not giggle in inappropriate times. Oh no, too bad, this is funny when you start talking about boys and their balls. It’s amusing, so let’s be funny and amusing about it and deal with the issue.”
“It’s been a really, really good response,” she continued. “If people don’t get it, to the people it offends, I’m sorry. Are you offended by a teenage boy who wears an “I Love Boobies” bracelet? OK, you are, I’m sorry. We don’t live in the dark ages anymore.”
Every story Blair read about young men losing their battle with cancer made her more determined to make early detection not just suggested, but routine, by using a tongue-in-cheek approach. She found that existing exam instructions were more technical than user-friendly.
“The drawings are anatomically correct, but you’re not going to get a 13, 14 or 15 years or older kid to look at that and let it sink in,” she explained.
Her father’s struggle with cancer and the side effects – both physical and fiscal- gives her an added dose of determination to move forward.
“I’m too optimistic,” she said. “He’s done a lot of research into alternative therapies, but they’re on kind of a fixed income and the medications aren’t cheap. He’s paying for it. But I know there are families out there who want to have alternative medication that can’t afford it.”
Just like the anatomical fixture that she is working to save, there are two important parts to her quest – to raise money for early detection and to help families pay for whatever therapies they choose.
“We’re not only raising money for awareness and getting information out there, especially to the younger guys, the boys, and the grown-up men who don’t deal with something unless it’s funny or amusing; we’re also funding alternative medications for people who can’t afford them.”
“Looking at what was going on with my dad, I felt powerless. I can’t fix it, I can’t make it better, I can’t control it,” she said. “Let me move along in a forward fashion, a powerful way and make a difference somewhere, so that’s what I’m doing. I’m taking care of my boys.”
Learn more about Save Our Balls by visiting their website here, liking their page on Facebook (Facebook.com/saveourballs), on Twitter (@SaveOurBalls) or calling Blair at (661) 347OUR8