Aaron Fullerton pic

Continuing to share some of Aaron’s story of his journey with and away from testicular cancer which you can find in full over here, i decided to grab three sections from three longer posts to share some of the insights he gained along the way as well as some of the challenges he faced and encouragements he received along the way. There is something for us all to learn here:

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With no power comes much less responsibility [which is nice]

Mind over matter extends to attitude and optimism, and I still feel very optimistic about this whole cancer thing. But mind over matter isn’t about control, and it’s been truly humbling to learn that. Cancer and chemo are going to battle inside my body for awhile – that’s the deal. I can view it through whatever-colored lenses I choose, but I can’t control the process. I can’t make the pain submit to my will. I’m not an Expendable.

I’ve touched on this before, but recognizing how little you’re in control? It’s a valuable experience. More than ever, I have to accept that I’m not in charge. I’m not God and my plans may not be His.

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It’s cancer but you can call it “Terriballs” if you want to

“Cancer’s not the bad word it used to be.” That’s what one of the lab technicians told me as I had to do insane breathing exercises that simulated blowing up balloons underwater or something. “Yes,” I told her, “you can even say it on network television now.” We went on to discuss health care, our faith lives, and how much she loves Bones, but I keep thinking about how she casually downgraded the word “cancer”… and how badly I needed to hear it.

Cancer. That dang word has been one of my biggest obstacles. I fear pity and I hate worry, so I want to distance myself from a word that carries such weight and stigma. I wish I could call my condition something like testiculitis, or terriballs, or a bad case of the nutz. (Probably the first one.) Most of the time, when you drop the word cancer, it lands on the floor with a shatter, sending shock waves of seriousness through the conversation. It hints at mortality and suffering. It turns goofy laughter into tight, serious smiles with sympathetic eyes. That never happens when you just have terriballs.

Chemo, too. The moment I name drop “chemo,” I know people are trying to imagine me 20 pounds lighter and minus a head of hair. In movies, characters who go through chemo almost always die at the end, especially if Abigail Breslin won’t give them her bone marrow. American vernacular has given the word a ring of hopelessness.

I’m not trying to say chemo and cancer aren’t serious or difficult. They are. But they’re large, encompassing words that include a variety of experiences. I’ve been feeling owned by these words, by their ability to put me in a box, to define me in the eyes of others.

But now I’m realizing: I’m the one with the mouth. I’m the one with the pen, the keyboard. I get to define cancer as it applies to me. I don’t have to write “cancer” or “chemo” apologetically. I don’t have to say them carefully, with a wince. They’re my words now and I will use them in whatever flippant fashion I SO PLEASE. “Yeah, dude, just zippin’ on over to chemo to do a little cancer blastin’, then we can ron-day at Chili’s and watch the sports contest.” I don’t really talk like that, but I think you get the idea. Cancer? Chemo? You guys are mere nouns to me right now.

Maybe it’ll still stop others in their tracks. Maybe the words will grow heavier on me as time passes. I’m not sure yet. But if I precede those nouns with odd, pregnant pauses, then I’m giving power to something that doesn’t deserve it. For now, the only time I’ll say “cancer” with a somber tone is if I’m trying to get a free appetizer at Chili’s.

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Hairless & Magically Healing like E.T.

I’ve spent most of 2013 either in bed or in a medically reclining chair. Chemo, especially as you get deeper into your cycles, zaps you of energy. And when you’re lacking energy, you start to feel like you’re lacking your own personhood. Narcissism creeps in and you start to believe that the world won’t really keep going while you’re down. Nothing all that important will happen without you – you write topical tweets about the news, for Pete’s sake! But the world forgets and the days fall by the wayside and when time passes without you and you’ve contributed nothing to the world, you feel like the disease is stealing some of your personality. (I mean, looking through these tumblr posts chronologically, I can see my joke-to-paragraph ratio fall to a point where I worry if solemnity is becoming me.)

But then, like E.T., something comes along with a magical healing touch (and bald head) and helps remind you who you are. As you may have seen in my twitter feed, my co-workers made the incredibly touching decisions of shaving their heads. It’s a tried-and-true move of solidarity, but it still feels (and is) incredibly personal. As they sent me pictures of their half-shorn heads through the evening, a tear may have formed in the crinkle of my eye. It’s not just that it was for me – it’s that it had the goofiness, whimsy, and, yes, ballsiness I would have wanted it to have. It reminded me of who I am day-to-day, when I’m not stuck in a bed. It was a welcome jolt, a refreshing laugh. It was a deeply felt and appreciated act. It made me feel like maybe the world is spinning without me, but damn it there are people who are determined to make sure my mark on it doesn’t easily disappear. Somehow, I keep getting luckier.

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You can follow Aaron Fullerton on the Twitterer at @AaronFullerton

[To read some more of the posts i have shared from Aaron’s blog, click here]

[For other Taboo Topic stories of people struggling with cancer, click here]

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