WASHINGTON — After a weight-lifting session left him struggling to catch his breath, Marine Staff Sgt. Mark Fayloga made a decision: It was time to visit a doctor and find out what was wrong with him. He'd been struggling with fatigue for months, but chalked it up in part to his long commute from Columbia, Md., to the Pentagon.
The diagnosis wasn't good: Fayloga, 30, has cancer. He announced it in a video posted online Monday, saying that while it has been difficult each time he has told someone he cares about, sharing updates about his illness in a video series will provide a distraction for him and keep his friends and family informed.
In a phone interview, Fayloga said that he is still waiting to learn what kind of lymphoma he has. Already, though, doctors have drained 3 1/2 liters of fluid from around his lungs and completed a biopsy. At least one possible diagnosis – Hodgkin's disease – is considered highly curable.
Fayloga's initial six-minute video isn't just somber. It's filled with off-color humor, wisecracks and Fayloga having fun by depicting himself using his diagnosis as leverage to get a variety of things, including an extension on a work project, an unfair advantage while playing Scrabble and the last cupcake at home.
His version appears on Facebook and YouTube. "I know it's pretty vulgar, but so am I," Fayloga said in the video. "And fair warning, early on I found that dark humor is really helping me through this, and it's only going to get darker from here."
Slowing down has been difficult for a self-described worker who deployed alongside an infantry battalion in Afghanistan as an enlisted Marine Corps combat correspondent in 2010, earning an award from the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation for his photography. It is one of several awards he earned during his military career, including being named the Defense Department's top military photographer in 2009. He left active-duty in August, and now works for the service as a civilian as its director of digital media engagement.
Fayloga said he has been struck by the number of strangers who already have reached out with their own stories about cancer after seeing his first video. At this point, he added, he doesn't want people to feel bad for him. He wants them to treat him the same way they always did.
One example: One Marine friend actually tackled Fayloga after he shared the news about his diagnosis, pumping on his chest to "get the cancer out," Fayloga said.
"That's what I want. I want that, and then I'm a jerk right back," Fayloga said with a laugh. "Mostly, you want people to feel normal again. That's the way I am with my family and friends."