A bizarre series of online occurrences appears to have lead to the early detection of one young man's case of testicular cancer.
For all the complaining we do about the intrusiveness of the internet — how it invades our personal lives and gobbles up our privacy — it's worth highlighting those moments when all the online over-sharing actually has a positive effect, like saving lives. That's right — lives.
How, you ask? Well it's complicated, so pay close attention.
It all starts with Reddit, a social news website that refers to itself as "the front page of the internet" and allows users to post their own content. There's a section on the site called "fffffffuuuuuuuuuuuu" where users post homemade "rage comics" -- comic strips made from simple, often pre-existing drawings.
Last week, a user with the screen name "CappnPoopdeck" posted a comic strip detailing a funny story her male friend had told her. The friend had found an unused pregnancy test in his medicine cabinet and for some reason decided to give it a go. Why the dude thought it would be a good idea to take a test clearly intended for women is not clear, but he did, and the results came back positive.
All of this is clearly communicated in the rage comic.
While many Reddit users were amused by the illustrated story of the man's positive pregnancy test, many others expressed concern and alarm, including numerous warnings that the positive test could indicate testicular cancer.
Apparently when a woman is pregnant, an at-home test will react to a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) to produce a positive result. But in a man, elevated levels of hCG are usually caused by one thing: testicular cancer.
CappnPoopdeck -- who the CBC has identified as an 18-year-old woman from Hamilton, Ontario --came online later that day to a screen filled with warnings that her friend should see a doctor and get tested for cancer.
"Whoa.. just saw all the cancer comments... It was my friend that did the test, I just made the comic for him.. but I am letting him know to test himself for cancer immediately. Thank you for letting me know guys, we may have dodged a bullet here!"
CappnPoopdeck told the CBC that she confronted her friend and told him to get tested. He set up an appointment and told her that she could reveal the result on Reddit as long as she kept his identity concealed.
On Tuesday, she announced via another rage comic that her friend had indeed been diagnosed with a small tumour. Because it was caught early, it can be treated immediately, although the friend may lose a testicle.
CappnPoopdeck also used the forum to encourage all men and women to get tested for cancer, and thanked Redditors for writing in and alerting her friend to the potential seriousness of his condition.
While it seems like this miraculous crowd-sourced diagnosis could only have happened online, a Canadian expert on information technology reminds us that this is likely not the case.
"Remember that there's nothing much new under the sun," says University of Toronto's Eugene Fiume, a professor in the school's department of computer science.
Fiume says that social media merely amplifies what humans have been doing tribally for many millennia.
"Most of us have gotten diagnoses in the strangest of quarters: at a party, on the bus, in a chance encounter," says Fiume. "We have folkloric advice that is passed on through the generations by word of mouth. It should come as no surprise that social media now participates in this, as did various sites such as WebMD and others prior to the advent of Facebook and Reddit."
In other words, maybe this guy would have told someone else his pregnancy test story, at a party or on the bus, and they would have told him to get tested.
But for some reason it's nice to think that we owe this one to the internet -- a place that's more than just a hiding place for trolls and bullies, andcan be a place that allows lifesaving serendipitous encounters like this one.