The first of our Aaron Fullerton journey stories was published two years ago and is reblogged with permission:
The original title: Laughing With Cancer, Not At It:
When Lance Armstrong fell from grace a few weeks ago, I didn’t really care. I’ve always appreciated him for the icon he is, for the modern miracle of his health and success, but when I think of Lance Armstrong, I think of three things: bracelets, Michelob Ultra, and high-fiving Matthew McConaughey. But now that there’s an odd, shameful shadow looming over his legacy, a void has been created. Who will be the new face of kicking testicular cancer’s ass? I’d like to nominate myself. Because, you see, I have testicular cancer and we’re going to make this fun.
I know people are going to bristle at the words “cancer” and “fun” so close together in a sentence, but that’s my personality and this is my story. A couple weeks ago, I was annoying my co-workers by blatantly trying to massage my own back in the middle of the writers’ room; I had what I believed was a knot in a muscle and it was aggravating me endlessly. That night, I visited my girlfriend, Sarah, and, before I knew what was happening, I was on the floor, crippled with back pain. She took me to the ER – my first time ever – and after a seven hour wait, I finally saw a doctor. They ruled out muscle issues. They ruled out kidney stones. They gave me morphine and I started talking like a Daily Show correspondent. They did a scan and found a mass which, after some laparoscopic surgery to get a tissue sample, they determined was a germ cell tumor. As the one in pain, I didn’t really care what they called it – I just wanted them to make my back feel like Thor’s hammer WASN’T being whipped against it.
After one week of painkillers, my back felt great and I haven’t needed to take another pill. (But if anyone wants a cupcake with lots of extra sprinkles, let me know.) Considering the tumor is still there, this new pain-free Aaron is a miracle. But the miracle was accompanied by the official diagnosis: testicular cancer.
Let me note, for the record: I am not used to talking about my balls. My general rule is to avoid bringing them up in conversation. When people ask how my balls are doing, I usually just say “fine” and then change the topic to this week’s episode of Homeland. But I guess God needs me to break my rule, because my balls have been front and center (yes, also literally) in my life these last few days. Here’s the deal: this morning, at 7AM, I had the offending testicle removed. (And for the curious among you, let me just say that yes, I’m still symmetrical.) That was the first part of my treatment; the second part will be a few rounds of chemotherapy that zap the tumor in my abdomen. I’ll be rocking the Bruce Willis haircut for awhile, but I can always ask my co-workers to steal me some hats from the White Collar set. If you’re gonna wear a hat, go big, right?
My real treatment, though, is going to be writing. Because no matter what I’m doing, what I’m living, what I’m feeling… writing about it makes it better. Even when it’s about my balls. I’ve been beyond lucky to make my living as a writer and I truly believe that if I’ve been given cancer, it’s because I’m supposed to write about it. (My surgeon was named Dr. Fallas and my urologist is Dr. Sacks, so clearly this all a grand comedy.) Assigning the cancer a purpose may seem self-deluding from the outside, but I believe with total conviction that a whole crapload of good can come out of a little bit of bad. So if the cancer’s going to use me, I’m going to use it right back. Sorry, cancerous cells, but now you’re “material.” Get used to it.
The fact of the matter, too, is that every statistic is completely in my favor. Ninety-five to ninety-eight percent of testicular cancer patients end up completely cured. Like, back-to-normal-in-every-way (yes-even-that-way) cured. If my experience was a Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen movie, it would be called “98/2” and the stakes would be incredibly low (and the humor would be even more genitalia-based.) All signs point to this being nothing more than a speed bump. I still get to work with people I love on a show I love (Graceland coming to USA in June 2013!). I still get to live in a city I love with a girlfriend, friends, and a family that I love. I get to write, I get to joke, I get to laugh, I get to tell the story.
I know there’s a comfort in shaping personal experiences into a narrative. When we give our lives the shape of a “story,” we turn ourselves into heroes; our point of view becomes something like narrator-ly omniscience, everything we do and feel is validated by context. But I think the greatest comfort comes from choosing the ending; we pick the happily ever after, or the thematic beat that defines our moralities. Me? I’m going to try to always end it on the punchline.
You don’t need to wear a rubber bracelet for me. Just wear a smile. Or, even better: laugh. Because we’ll be talking about balls, whether I like it or not.