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How Muhammad Ali Helped Me Kick Cancer's Ass

September 22nd, 2017 |

by adry | Survivor: Testicular Cancer    Connect

I am, and have been since my early teens, a huge fight fan.

In high school, it was just part of the culture that every guy had to have. You simply had to have a sport to be deeply passionate about if you wanted to survive socially. You had your mainstream choices: soccer, rugby, cricket and Australian Rules football.

Not me. I was into combat sports - Fighting! Boxing! Mixed Martial Arts! While the other boys were marveling at the performance of their favourite rugby team or debating which team would be ranked at the top of the Soccer League, I was obsessing over the recent Ultimate Fighting Championship fight card.

My love of combat sports intensified when I took up boxing training. Boxing became therapeutic; it was an hour a week that I solely dedicated to myself, where I could relieve the stress I carried throughout the school week and mentally recharge. It became the hour I most looked forward to during the week. As a bodacious teen, the boxing gym also became the space where I attempted to emulate my favourite fighters. I wanted to be as agile as Ali, ferocious and hard-hitting as Tyson and Liddell and durable as Silva and Lesnar. When I wasn't in the gym, I would spend hours upon hours shadow boxing in front of the mirror practicing combinations and perfecting each punch.

My love of combat sports remained constant when cancer entered my life. I wore my beloved Muhammad Ali branded Everlast suede jacket when I was admitted into hospital for surgery. When I woke up from surgery, I asked my Mum if she could bring my iPad so I could watch the Rocky Balboa movies I saved on it. I would blast "Eye of the Tiger," the theme song from Rocky IV, on my phone when my parents would take me to the hospital for chemotherapy and radiotherapy (yes, it was cheesy, but it worked to calm my nerves!). I was determined to not let my cancer diagnosis redefine this part of my identity, as it was what helped maintain a sense of what my life was like pre-diagnosis.

In Rocky Balboa, the sixth movie of the Rocky Balboa franchise, there is a scene where Rocky talks to his son about what it takes to succeed in life, and delivers this poignant line:

"It ain't about how hard you hit, it's about hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward - that's how winning is done!”

I remember watching this scene countless amount of times while I was recovering from surgery. It helped put mypost-diagnosis life into perspective.

Four months post-surgery, I was back in the gym hitting the mitts. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy kept me out of the gym for several weeks at a time but it did not keep me down – I made sure to start each day by shadow boxing (albeit at times at a slower pace than usual). I refused to let cancer redefine my passion for combat sports and training, and ultimately, the time I was investing into my physical health.

I lost count at the amount of times I've been referred to as a 'fighter' for what I endured as a result of my cancer diagnosis. At first it was difficult to associate myself with this term; doing so, I felt, would have given cancer more credit for its impact on my life. However, I have since embraced this term. The further out from treatment I got, the more I appreciated the poeticity of being able to apply the inspiration I gained from watching great fighters to my own personal fight against cancer. Yes, my cancer diagnosis caused immense emotional and physical strain on my life, but I am determined to persevere and overcome what felt like insurmountable odds -- just like all my favourite fighters had done in the ring.

Today, I am damn proud to say that I went 12 rounds against cancer, and won.

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adry's picture

Adry Awan is 21 years old and currently completing his final year of a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of New South Wales, majoring in Media, Culture and Technology. In addition to his studies, he is a youth mental health advocate for many mental health organisations such as headspace Australia, batyr, reachout.com Australia and The Black Dog Institute.