Let Go of Your Shit – A Conversation About ‘Balls of Shit’

A Ballsy Sense of Tumor Discusses Balls of Shit with Alexander Mandarino and Gabrielle Fecteau

The hosts of the Soar Above Cancer podcasts, Alexander Mandarino and Gabrielle Fecteau, have had me on the show two times to discuss my journey and how I share my story. Recently, they published a book, entitled Let Go of Your Sh*t: A Guide for Young Adults Affected by Cancer. Since I love me some cancer memoirs, I snagged a copy and interviewed the two authors. 

ABSOT: Before we discuss the book, tell us a little about yourselves.

Alexander Mandarino: “I call myself a eyes-wide-open cancer thriver, positivity preacher, speaker, blogger and podcaster. On November 21, 2014, I was diagnosed with cancer. Since then, I have kept his eyes locked on improvement and self-awareness, even though nothing has quite gone according to plan. When I was first brought into the hospital to undergo tests prior to diagnosis, I remember waiting patiently for his first ever CT scan. I received a text from my mom: ‘How’s it going in there?’

I texted back: ‘Keepin’ it real.’ This has been my motto from the beginning of his cancer experience. My experience is about positivity, learning to smile, putting your head down and trucking through no matter how difficult life gets.

I consider myself blessed with a wealth of knowledge and experience. As it would be a shame to waste this new-found wisdom, I have dedicated time and energy in sharing his story with others.”

Gabrielle Fecteau, MSW: “As for me, I am a crazy about life cancer thriver, self-proclaimed life connoisseur, empathetic therapist, speaker, blogger and podcaster. I was diagnosed with cancer on June 20, 2015. Since, my life has been shaped by many complex stories—of figuring out what it means to live, learn and thrive in each moment of our lives.

During my radiation treatments, the light beams that are used to align someone on the radiation bed created the shape of a little bird on the ceiling as the machine turned. It happened every day. It was a small moment that made me smile. It was a reminder that we are capable of living fully despite a cancer diagnosis. This little bird taught me that life happens in the smallest moments. 

I understand that cancer experiences are not easy, but I choose to show up for those who have been affected by cancer by connecting, building and growing within our lives.”

ABSOT: How did you two team up?

AM and GF: “We met in 2017 when Alex made a guest appearance on Gabrielle’s podcast, Soar Above Cancer. This interview was inspired by Alex’s Survivor Profile on the Young Adult Cancer Canada website. We ended up discussing positivity and cancer. 

A few months later, we collaborated again. This time, Alex was to join the podcast as its newest host. From there, the podcast has grown into what it is today – a place where we have honest conversations and build connections with other young adults affected by cancer. 

Through it all, our friendship grew. Even though we lived many kilometers away from each other, we began working with each other often. This included speaking at events together whenever we could.

Our latest project includes becoming YACCtivists, individuals tasked with building awareness and the capacity of YACC so they’re able to reach more young adults affected by cancer. This book became one of the ways in which we could accomplish this. 

Gabrielle often has very crazy ideas, often ones that will transcend a normal work day and strive to push our boundaries in an effort to reach as many people as possible! One of these included writing a book in just a few months.   

It happened way back when Gabrielle first messaged Alex about co-hosting a podcast. Alex is so great about jumping all in with these ideas. 

Our styles and personalities are very complimentary – which makes this partnership everything that it is. These different personalities merge throughout the book like we do through the Soar Above Cancer podcast and any project we’ve taken on. The unique styles of writing and storytelling create a unique flare. Although some projects may be more challenging, like publishing a book, we have more fun than you’d imagine.”

ABSOT: Now that we have the background crap out of the way, let’s talk about your new book, Let Go of Your Sh*t: A Guide for Young Adults Affected by Cancer. What’s it all about?

AM and GF: “As cancer thrivers, many of us carry a lot of what we call ‘balls of shit’ – thoughts, actions and feelings that feel really heavy. A lot of the time, we have a hard time managing day-to-day life when these balls of shit fester in our minds and in our bodies. You can say that these balls find a home in your pockets. 

On top of the journey we call cancer, these thoughts, actions and feelings can truly weigh us down, and impede us from achieving happiness. This book is all about getting rid of the balls of shit that you carry that no longer serve you in your life.  

At its core, this book illustrates the process of letting go of your balls of shit by exploring what we call the Balls of Shit Theory (BST). 

This theory has been carried by Karine Chalifour, Program Director at Young Adult Cancer Canada for years now. We know that this has been an essential theory for many young adults affected by cancer. This is what the first part of the book is about – the what, when, where and how of the BST.  

We continue to explore how the theory plays a role in our lives as cancer thrivers. The approach each of us as individuals take to apply this theory to our everyday experiences differs depending on who we are. We discuss the foundational and evolutionary approaches we can take to do so. Moreover, we take a trip through the cancer experience, and explain how our thoughts and feelings are formed through each stage of cancer, and what they look like. 

Because we know how important it is to have guiding principles when trying to let go of our balls of shit, we explore the art of letting go of our balls of shit – through building awareness, choosing acceptance and engaging in release. 

It wouldn’t be enough to assume the theory only applies to cancer thrivers. There are a whole set of supporters, health care professionals, and the like that play a big role in our lives, and we share how our balls of shit affect them, and how they experience their own thoughts, feelings and actions that weigh heavy. We also share how the BST extends outside of the cancer realm into those not directly affected by cancer.”

ABSOT: Quite a unique smell take on this approach to healing. What is the Balls of Shit Theory, exactly? 

AM and GF: “Simply put, the Balls of Shit Theory (BST) illustrates the importance of letting go of actions, thoughts and feelings that no longer serve us and therefore cause significant disruptions in our lives. 

The BST is about introspection. It is about looking inwards to identify, process and let go of our balls of shit—that is, what is holding us back from living our best lives. 

In many ways, the BST is about finding meaning. It suggests that we find what is important in our lives and what isn’t. We are saying to ourselves: There is a point to all of this that lives beyond the pain. And I want to find it. 

At its core, the goal of the BST is to live a life that is lighter, to be free of any unwarranted and unwanted barriers to achieving pure happiness. We are all unique in nature, and our beliefs and principles will guide us in how we apply the theory. But this theory provides true application on how to become aware, accepting, and able to eventually release what no longer has a purpose.”

ASBOT: What was the catalyst – the fiber that got the Ball of Shit going – for writing the book? 

AM and GF: “We wrote this book for all the young adults cancer thrivers, their caregivers and, really, anyone who carries around heavy balls of shit inside and outside of their cancer experience. We thought of all of our peers who needed this to be written as much as we did. We also thought of all those who will be diagnosed with cancer in the future – 22 young adults in Canada are diagnosed with cancer each day. And then we wrote it for all of those who aren’t here to read this book today, but would have loved the chance to see it.  

Don’t get us wrong – we certainly needed this book ourselves. Neither of us had truly understood this theory until we were introduced to YACC, well into our cancer experience. Throughout the process of writing it, we faced many of our own balls of shit which we worked through. And still today, we often turn towards the practices we explore in the book to let go of heavy pieces of shit we still drag around with us.  

With that said, we know that some thoughts and actions aren’t released and removed from our lives after one toss. There are times when a ball of shit returns time and time again, and we want all of the thrivers out there to understand that this is normal. When we realized that we had a chance to put together a guide to help those affected by cancer assess that something no longer serves them in their experience, we had to take it.”

ABSOT: Let’s chat about your personal Poo-Pourri of the theory, if you will. If each of you picked one lesson from the Balls of Shit Theory that has applied to your life, what stands out most?

AM and GF: “We often get this question and, everytime, we revert to an answer that reflects words that neither of us actually wrote. The lessons that stand out the most are actually from two very important people in our lives.

‘Everyone is allowed to walk feeling lighter’ – Karine Chalifour, Program Director of YACC

This lesson for us highlights the importance of understanding that all of us are worthy of going through life feeling lighter – whatever that can look like for you. It is also a sort of permission that we needed to start letting go of what was heavy in our lives.

‘Balls of shit are the things you carry with you that no longer serve your pursuit of living and loving life’ – Geoff Eaton, Founder and CEO of YACC

We look to this quote almost as a mission statement for the theory. The lesson that derives from it is that there certainly are things in every one of our lives that hinder our ability to truly live. If we can identify them, make them tangible, even hold them in front of us and examine, we can move one step closer to our best selves. The important thing is that there is a way to rid ourselves of these negative notions, and it starts with looking inwards.” 

ABSOT: Last question, and it’s an important one for me to dump out here. How many times does the word shit appear in the book?

AM and GF: “Best question ever! The exact number is 644 times. Which makes us laugh out loud.”

Let the record show that laughter was the only sound they made out loud. 

Be sure to check out a copy of Let Go of Your Sh*t: A Guide for Young Adults Affected by Cancer. I found it to be a good guide for young adults facing cancer, but the “Balls of Shit” theory can also be applied to non-cancery folk as well. 

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