Cancer picked a fight with Mark Fayloga. Unfortunately for cancer, Fayloga is a Marine.
Fayloga left active duty this year as a staff sergeant and is currently in the Reserves. The day after Thanksgiving, Fayloga was at the gym when he started having severe breathing problems. He was ultimately diagnosed with Hodgkin's lLymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system.
Now Fayloga, the Reserve staff sergeant is documenting his battle with the disease in a series of short videos with the provocative title "F--k Cancer."
"When I was finalizing the name, my cousin just texted me: 'You should call it 'F--k Cancer,' because f--k cancer!'" said Fayloga, who works as director of digital engagement with the office of Marine Corps communications.
He posted the first video in the series on Facebook and YouTube Monday to help keep his family and friends informed. It includes footage from the doctor's office when he received his diagnosis and an emotional phone call in which he informs his mom about the cancer.
But in typical Marine fashion, the video is also full of dark humor, which Fayloga credits with helping him through the past month.
"It's only going to get darker from here," he said in the video.
Fayloga then goes onto joke about how he quickly realized that he can get away with a lot more when he reminds those around him about the cancer. The next shots show him getting out of work assignments, eating the lone last cupcake left on a plate, and cheating at a game of Scrabble.
Fayloga said he has been overwhelmed by the messages of support and warm wishes since posting his video. And while he appreciates the words of kindness so many are offering, he said he prefers the different kind of feedback he's received from his two closest friends.
"One buddy, just without even skipping a beat, took a pause and said, 'Man, as if herpes wasn't bad enough,'" Fayloga said. "He made me laugh. My other friend, kind of the same thing — he paused and said, 'So, what are you going to do with your motorcycle?'"
Fayloga said he expects to see his oncologist on Jan. 5 and hopes that his treatment will start right away. He is "100-percent" confident that he will beat cancer.
"That's the attitude you have to have, right?" he said. "You can't go into anything with a losing attitude."
To help with the shortness of breath that he felt that day at the gym, Fayloga's doctor removed In his video, line on Dec. 28, Fayloga explained that a surgeon removed two liters of fluid around his left lung and more than a liter around the right lung. But that has only offered temporary relief Since then, his breathing problems have returned, he told Marine Corps Times on Wednesday.
"I had five good days after surgery where I could take full breaths, but that went away," he said. "Until I start treatment, all these issues are going to remain."
Throughout his life, Fayloga has preferred brutal honestly to positive reinforcement. That's why he was caught off guard when friends and family members expressed their concern to him after he was diagnosed with cancer, he said.
"It's just like: I'm going to be fine; I'm going to live forever; we're going to be fine; don't even worry about it," he said. "You don't need to say these nice things. I know that we have this. Let's just go back to making fun of each other like we were."
Fayloga was also "shocked" by the heart-warming comments he has received from total strangers since he posted his first video, he said. While he appreciates their kindness, he prefers the different kind of feedback he's received from his two closest friends.
"One buddy, just without even skipping a beat, took a pause and said, 'Man, as if herpes wasn't bad enough,' Fayloga said. "He made me laugh. My other friend, kind of the same thing, he paused and said, 'So, what are you going to do with your motorcycle?'"
The staff noncommissioned officer, who received multiple photography awards while serving as a combat cameraman when he was on active duty, said he Fayloga is determined to keep working. While he can work from home, he tries to get into the office as often as he can.
"You want everything to feel as normal as possible," he said. "Going to work feels normal — talking with my team, with the Marines, joking around. That's all I want is to have that again."
And when it comes to being around Marines, things seem most normal when they're tough on each other.
"I'm going to be fine," he said. "...Let's just go back to making fun of each other like we were."
"Then sometimes reality sets in. I drive to the train. I take the train to the Metro. You're kind of hauling ass through the Metro system to make sure you get to your trains and then I'm really sucking wind after. I'm like: 'Oh yeah. I forgot. I got this other thing.'"
Fayloga is concerned that his co-workers are less likely to give him assignments, and that is the exact opposite of what he wants. He needs to keep busy, and that's why he decided to produce the video series about his cancer treatment.
"It continues to give me a purpose, something to do," he said. "My whole life, I've been very much a worker – I need to be doing something."