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Joey was born and raised in Neuchâtel, Switzerland, but chose not to become a Swiss citizen, holding only a Canadian passport through his dad, who is from Edmonton, Alberta. Although mainly educated in French, and being totally bi-lingual, he considered his first language to be English. 

After a happy childhood and adolescence, Joey decided to follow in his dad’s footsteps upon graduating from high school and go into science. But neither physics nor later his studies in political science and economics thrilled him sufficiently to continue. He had always been passionate about the cinema, so when he was accepted at the Metropolitan Film School in London it was like a dream come true. His years there were amongst the happiest of his adult life.

 

Back in Switzerland he spent eight years as a radio host and DJ, conducting hundreds of interviews and becoming a well-known presence in the area. He also did a great deal of voiceover work for various supermarkets, IKEA, watch companies, hospitals etc etc. He had a magnificent voice, deep and clear, which he not only used professionally but also as the singer of a band in his free time. His work at the Neuchâtel Fantastic Film Festival (NIFFF) was also much appreciated. He was definitely in his element when spending time with such well-known Hollywood directors as David Cronenberg, Kevin Smith, George R.R. Martin to mention but a few. Together with his good friend Nico he wrote and directed a number of short films and filmed a documentary in Bali. He was always a very funny guy and had a loyal following for his many, many self-deprecating and clever selfies on Facebook.

Because of Covid, we’d seen less of Joey than usual, even though we lived in the same area. He’d been very strict as he’d not wanted to inadvertently infect his dad and me. He seemed a little tired in the first months of 2021 and complained of backache from time to time, but he thought it was just a matter of not getting enough exercise.

Then one day our world as we knew it changed in a second: on June 26th, 2021 Joey came home for coffee and gave us the devastating news that he’d just been diagnosed with cancer! The diagnostic process had gone very fast: he’d finally gone to the ER because of his back pain and had immediately been sent off for a scan after he mentioned a lump he’d noticed in one of his testicles some months before. He’d forgotten about it because of the backaches. The following day his urologist broke the news: testicular cancer. Since chemotherapy can render one infertile, he had his sperm frozen. Although he was single at the time, he didn’t want to rule out the possibility of fathering a child. This all had to be done quickly as a week after his diagnosis he had an orchiectomy.

At first, we were confident that he would beat it, even when the results of the biopsy showed that the cancer had already spread to his lungs, liver and spine. Metastatic testicular cancer still has an excellent recovery prognosis so Joey asked his family and friends to remain positive for him. We were obviously shattered but I tried to never cry in front of him.

He reacted very well to the first three months of chemotherapy, hardly experiencing any side effects besides tiredness and a metallic taste in his mouth. Nausea was kept at bay with meds. He considered himself lucky. When he finished that first protocol we were all over the moon when a new PET scan showed the tumours had shrunk a great deal. The next step was to be RPLND (retroperitoneal lymph node dissection) surgery, which was to remove the lymph nodes in his abdomen to prevent the further spread of cancer.

The waiting period was long that fall, possibly lengthened by Covid restrictions at the university hospital in Bern, where the operation was to be carried out. He was eventually admitted on January 3rd, but at the 11th hour the surgery was cancelled as a final screen showed a large tumour on his lung. Some of it was removed as well as part of a lobe in his left lung. A second cycle of new chemotherapy was then programmed.

Tragically, in spite of further operations, 4 types of chemotherapy, an autologous stem cell transplant, five days in an induced coma, and more than 100 days spent in 5 different hospitals, the tumours finally spread to his brain. Although he knew his cancer was terminal, he was to start radiotherapy in order to cauterise the tumours. We hoped this might buy some time in a hospice while reducing his pain. During the last week of his life he was kept comfortable through high doses of fentanyl and was then able to enjoy daily outings in the hospital garden with his family and friends. Those days were a gift none of us will ever forget! Sad
ly, he never made it to hospice. His dad, brother and I were right by his side in hospital when he quietly passed away on October 13, 2022.

Joey’s strength throughout much of his battle was simply amazing. Of course there were dark days during the 16 months of his illness, as he had so many painful procedures and constant infections because of his weakened immune system. But at the end of the day, Joey was a positive person. Besides obviously having his dad, his older brother Kevin and myself there for him all the time, he was always surrounded by his friends.

What also gave him a great deal of strength, however, were the podcasts he created with his very close friend, Andreas, in order to document his cancer journey. Joey’s brilliant sense of humour, so very much part of his character his whole life, stood him in good stead. The podcasts inspired people around the world with their informative and courageous content and their hilarious references to films, music and pop culture. To whomever watched them, the chemistry between Joey and Andreas is crystal clear from the very first episode on. Andreas made the trek from Norway to Switzerland many times that year to be with his friend.

Moreover, as Joey had been in radio himself and thus had many connections in the media, but also because of his vast friends’ network, his story was soon covered extensively by radio, news magazines, TV and newspapers in Switzerland. One of the main reasons for this was his ability to laugh at himself in spite of the bad hand he’d just been dealt and not to let himself get  too depressed by the Big C.

The last episode of Having a Ball was recorded in hospital only 6 days before Joey’s death. In it, he said that if he could prevent only one other young man from going through what he did, then his death might have some sense. As his family, we felt we simply had to continue what he started.

Had Joey been diagnosed sooner, who knows, he might have beaten the cancer.

So, if you are a young man yourself - or if you have a boyfriend, husband, son or brother or if you’d just like to get involved - please become a member of Having a Ball, the Joseph Barnes Association for Testicular Cancer Awareness and help spread the word! Together we can accomplish a great deal and help give some sense to my son’s tragic death!

 

Annemarie, Joey's mother, August 2023

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