Two years ago, AJ Vaughn was healthy, happy and living life to the fullest. But in the summer of 2009, that all changed. Vaughn was in a motorcycle accident on his way to work. Doctors found more than a few broken bones.
"They saw something weird on the x-ray and the x-ray techs were like that doesn't look right. I was like what's going on and he's like ok, it's my unprofessional point of view, but do you smoke? I said maybe on the weekends with a beer in one hand, but no not really. He said quit that and go see a pulmonologist," said Vaughn.
Tests didn't show any signs of cancer. Vaughn went to a specialist. More tests revealed that at 26-years-old, Vaughn had stage four lung cancer.
"I put on my helmet as quick as I could and immediately started crying in my helmet. They said because it had already spread to my brain it would be three to six months death sentence," he continued.
Vaughn had to break the news to his family that he had cancer. "I don't know if the thought of him dying terrified me as much as the thought of him suffering," said Joyce Vaughn, his mother.
When Vaughn's tumors grow, he visits the Comprehensive Blood and Cancer Center for cyber knife treatments. "We do expect a good control in the brain with the treatment," said Dr. Ajay Desei, Radiation Oncologist.
Dr. Desei is Vaughn's radiation oncologist. "Most of the lung cancers are from smoking but not all. It is unusual and it can be deadly. The better we can control the longer he can live," he continued.
Vaughn may have lost his hair, but he's kept his sense of humor, even on his toughest days. He has found a way to help other cancer victims, by passing around a purple potty to flush away cancer. People wake up to find the purple toilet sitting in their front yard, with a note letting them know where it came from and how to get rid of it.
"They have to pay the ransom of 15 dollars to get it removed. For 20 dollars, we'll take it and deliver it to the next person of your choosing," said Vaughn.
Chemotherapy and radiation has made it difficult for Vaughn to enjoy his favorite pastimes, like playing the piano. Vaughn's fingers aren't as nimble. His sense of smell is a little off. But he finds humor in that too.
After his first round of chemotherapy, Vaughn asked his doctor, why he thinks it made him smell awful. "Everything stinks, my breath, my sweat, food doesn't taste good. I just have this funk. I'm always smelling. He's like oh you have dead cat syndrome. He says imagine there's this dead cat underneath your porch and it gets pulled out and every once in awhile. You just get this stink around you," explained Vaughn.
The stench stuck with Vaughn and he decided to name his cancer, dead cat. "While I'm in the shower coughing and hacking up my lungs, my sister and my wife are listening and I just say don't worry about it girls, it's just more dead cat coming up," he continued.
Vaughn has sold dozens of "Team Dead Cat" t-shirts which encourage people to "cough it up" for lung cancer. "I think I can be an inspiration to people and he's still keeping positive no matter what anyone says," said Vaughn.
Vaughn is positive because through his pain, he's sharing his story. It is a story of survival. Vaughn is not dying of cancer. He is living with cancer.
"They gave me three to six months and I've been here for over 20 months now. I'm still fighting and as long as God's got me here I'll keep on fighting," said Vaughn.