“ Attitude is everything! No matter the stage or how far the cancer might have spread, the patient’s attitude can make a world of difference.
Jason Morton kicks mAss with his bike! Jason is an IT Manager at Texas Tech Health Sciences Center. He and fellow testicular cancer survivor, Chris Olsen biked from San Diego, CA to St. Augustine, FL to raise awareness for testicular cancer. Jason holds a degree in Electronic Servicing Technology and is pursuing a Master’s degree in Counseling from Wayland Baptist University in Plainview, Texas. We were very fortunate to connect with him online and find out more about his journey to “thrivership”.
mK: Thanks for doing this Jason! How did you find out about your diagnosis?
JM: I began having debilitating lower back pain in the fall of 2008. I went to the doctor, but he thought it was an old football injury and prescribed some pain killers. This went on for months so I was referred to a pain specialist. In March of 2009 I was scheduled for a pain shot directly into my spine and a couple of days before the procedure, the hospital ran a routine blood test to check my blood levels. On April 3, I got a call that my white blood count was almost 10x the normal and they wanted to admit me into the hospital for further testing. I had dozens of tests run over the next ten days. Then on April 13, 2009 at 9:02AM, my doctor came in and told me that I had Stage 3 Testicular Cancer that had spread to my lungs, my liver and my kidneys and we were starting chemotherapy in 10 hours before the cancer spreads anymore. Over the course of the next 4 months, I spent the majority of the time in the hospital and got 52 chemo treatments of 3 different drugs. I lost 67 lbs., all my hair (beard included), and was basically death warmed over for most of the time!
mK: What were your symptoms?
JM: Lower back pain. None of the usual testicular cancer symptoms, such as pain, swelling, redness, or tenderness of the testicle.
mK: What organizations are you involved with? What do you do?
JM: My professional job is managing the Computer Helpdesk and Desktop Support teams at the Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock, TX. I have been with TTUHSC for about 8 years now, but in the IT field for 16 years. I am involved with a lot of cancer advocacy and awareness groups. I first got involved at my local cancer center after my treatments ended where I mentored other patients going through treatments. I soon found out about the Testicular Cancer Foundation in Austin, TX, whom I have worked with many times on different ventures. TCF has been the organization that I have done the most with, including representing them at events across the country as well as on a cross country bicycle ride that was benefitting the TCF. I have attended a few Livestrong events in Texas and California as well. I am the founder of a local cycling event, called Cycle for Hope that raises money for my local cancer center. I have participated in multiple Relay for Life events in my regional area since 2010 and this last year I was on the Event Leadership Team for my local Relay for Life. I am also on the Board of Directors for my Regional American Cancer Society and just this week I was notified that I was the recipient of the Hero of Hope award for my territory.
mK: Congrats! Why did you and Chris decide to bike across the country? Sound Cool! Tell us about some of the crazy stuff that happened on your trip!
JM: In the summer of 2013, the Testicular Cancer Foundation hosted an Inaugural Speakers Bureau where they flew in TC survivors from all over the country into Austin TX for a weekend of training on public speaking. Chris Olsen and I met then for the first time there and he was talking to the group about how he wanted to ride cross country on his bicycle to raise awareness about TC. I knew immediately that I wanted to join Chris, who I had only know for a couple of days, in this epic adventure! In the spring of 2014, Chris and I flew to San Diego, CA and rode our bicycles 2,726 miles across the USA to St. Augustine, FL on an epic trip named the Go Nuts Tour. It took us 51 days to complete the trip unassisted, meaning that we did not have a car following us and carrying our gear. Each of us had about 60-70 lbs. of gear strapped onto the bike each day that included tents, sleeping bags, water, food, clothes, etc. We rode in lots of different weather, such as 115 degree heat in the desert of Arizona into a complete downpour of rain in Alabama. One of the craziest things that we did was during the first week of the trip. We were riding into the early evening and the sun was almost down one day. We were only about 5 or 6 miles from the town where we were going to camp that night, then we had a flat tire. Once this got fixed, we quickly got onto our bikes to finish the last few miles before it got too dark and then we hit a looooong downhill stretch into the valley below. The valley walls had completely blocked out the sunlight and our headlights that worked great when we were riding at 10-11 MPH made for a scary ride at 30-35MPH downhill when we were practically riding blind! Somehow we made it all the way without any mishaps. Another memorable day was a day where we were climbing almost 2,000 feet in 6 or so miles. It took us all afternoon to ride 6 miles with a break about every ¼ of a mile. I am from a very flat area of West Texas and Chris is from Brooklyn NY, so neither one of us had prepared quite enough for all the climbing on the trip! Another funny story is when we rode through El Paso, TX we had gotten interviewed by the local TV and newspapers and the next day we ran into some rain about 25 miles outside of El Paso. Chris and I had pulled over at a gas station to get a snack and wait out the rain when a news van drives down the street, then stops in the middle of the street, and then backs up to pull into the parking lot. The reporter and camera man walk up to us and say “Hey! You are the guys riding cross country right!? Can we interview you about how the weather is affecting your ride?” Chris and I got a good laugh out of that one, as that is the closest that we got to being celebrities. It was also really funny about making the front page of the Spanish only newspaper in El Paso, as neither one of us speaks Spanish!
mK: HAHAHA! Long trips into unfamiliar territory always create great stories! What motivates you?
JM: I do not want another cancer patient to have to go through what I went through. That is why I work with cancer awareness groups so much because prevention and early detection are crucial. If I can help another person to avoid all the things that I learned the hard way, then I will be successful.
mK: Cool! Who is your personal hero?
JM: My wife. She was a rock during my battle with cancer and held down the household (and still does) while I was going through treatments. We had a unique situation in that I was treated at the hospital next door to where both my wife and I work, so she was able to keep working while I was in treatment at the hospital. She still took my son to school, t-ball games, taekwondo, etc AND kept the bills paid while I was in the hospital. I do not know how she did it! She still found time to pay the bills, clean the house, come see me and work all at the same time!
mK: Very cool. Let’s get to know YOU better… What makes you laugh, cry, angry?
JM:. My son makes me laugh. He is an only child and thus is around adults quite a bit and his sense of humor is unique partially because of this. He says many “one liners” that are not 100% on point for the conversation, but that makes it even funnier coming from him. What makes me cry is when I am in a cancer center and I see the pediatric patients there. They are so young and so sick and yet they are sometimes the happiest patients. I think that this happiness is because of their lack of understanding about the seriousness of cancer. What makes me angry is when a doctor or a nurse tries to tell the patient how they are going to feel or think during treatment! Even if you have been in the treatment chair, every situation is unique. I have had cancer and I don’t know exactly how someone is going to feel and what they are going to think!!!
mK: Right. What would you say is the most interesting thing you’ve ever done?
JM: Well, the Go Nuts Tour is pretty hard to beat! But, I would also say that my two cruises to the Caribbean and a recent trip to Washington D.C. on a church missionary trip rank as a solid #2 OR #3!
mK: What is your guilty pleasure?
JM: Peanut Butter and Honey sandwiches with a tall glass of milk before bed. OR Reese’s Peanut Butter cups. Either way, I LOVE peanut butter.
mK: Got ya! Answer this… If a magic genie granted you 3 wishes (but you can’t wish for more wishes or to kill anyone), what would be your 3 wishes!
JM: #1 I would have finished college earlier! I got an Associate’s Degree in 1999 and swore that that was all the school I ever needed. Then after getting stuck in my current IT position when I needed a Bachelor’s degree for anymore raises or promotions, I went back to school
#2 I wish I would have gone into the Navy to try and be a pilot. I have always loved water and flying, so it would have been a good combination. I was too worried about listening to my mom who was against the idea.
#3 A job where I could help people all day and not have to worry about making ends meet. I will be taking a considerable pay cut when I switch careers, but I REALLY enjoy counseling whereas IT pays well.
mK: So, would you be Maverick or Goose? Just kidding… what do you think is the toughest challenge a survivor faces?
JM: The toughest challenge for me is the question of, “Is the cancer coming back?” It has now been over 6 years since I have been cancer free. Each and every time that I go back to the doctor for a checkup, I still get really nervous after my blood tests and CT scans that the cancer is back. I am completely fine the rest of the time, but those 4 or 5 days between the blood draw and the results still worry me! I know that especially since I was only 30 years old when I got diagnosed that the reality is that I will have it again, so the best thing that I can do is to eat healthier, get plenty of exercise, and enjoy the time that I have because I don’t know when it might be back again. Hopefully never!!!
mK: What are is next on your agenda?
JM: Finishing my Master’s degree in Counseling in May 2016. I started back to school after my diagnosis and treatments and along the way decided to change careers after 15 years from being in IT to becoming a Licensed Professional Counselor. I will specialize in Oncology counseling and I am working with my local cancer centers to get full time counselors on staff at both locations. Also, Chris and I are already casually talking about another cross country bicycle trip! This time from Washington state to NY or Maine!
mK: Cool! Most survivors want to give back. The ones that do become “thrivers.” You guys are definitely “thrivers!” Any advice for people or loved ones that get daunting diagnoses?
JM: Attitude is everything! No matter the stage or how far the cancer might have spread, the patient’s attitude can make a world of difference. I decided early on that I was not going to let the cancer define my outcome. My story has a happy ending and not everyone’s story ends well, but everyone has the power to decide if they are going to rise above the circumstances and make the best of it. Many survivors want to put their cancer journey behind them and never speak about it again. They do not want to remember how bad things got, but for me I am proud that I a beat cancer and I want to encourage others to be proud as well.
mK: Tell us something about yourself that people probably didn’t know… anything.
JM: Well, I only have one testicle, but that is pretty common for testicular cancer survivors as it is a routine procedure to remove the one with cancer! So let me see…. I guess something interesting about me would be that my Varsity year of football ended with an undefeated season, but we did NOT win the state championship… We lost in the playoffs due to a tie game that was decided on statistics. Then the next year, the rules were changed to prevent this from happening again.
mK: Any parting words for all the mAss Kickers?
JM: I can proudly say that “Cancer was the best thing that ever happened to me.” It opened my eyes to how short life is and how important it is to try and make the world a better place. Don’t let the struggles in life get you down because each and every struggle that you conquer is a step up to greater things to come.
Jason Morton: undefeated high school football player, pending “Master of Oncology Counseling”, peanut butter addict, “Top Gun” pilot, dedicated husband and father, El Paso-Texas celebrity, exemplary testicular cancer advocate, and “Testicular mAss” Kicker! Thanks for doing the interview Jason! Check out the Go Nuts Tour! We will definitely keep our eyes open to see what you do next!