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Cancer Survivor Who Had Section Of Face Removed Strives To 'Live Like A Warrior'

WESTWOOD ( — A local man who received a lot of assistance recovering from cancer is now determined to pay it forward.

Aaron Atkins recently celebrated his 30th birthday while in a hospital bed, in a tremendous amount of pain, and just out of surgery where doctors removed an entire section of his face.

His doctors at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center recommended the aggressive surgery to combat Stage III melanoma.

"We're going to need to remove your eye, your eyeball, your eyelids, your eye muscles, do a full exenteration of your left eye to get that tumor out," he said.

The tumor started as a mole on his eyebrow three years earlier. Radiation and four prior surgeries failed to keep it from growing.

The second time the tumor came back, Atkins was excelling at work and had met a new girlfriend.

"Life was moving and it was moving really well," he said.

Atkins agonized over what would be a drastic change in how he looked.

"Los Angeles is arguably the most physically censored, dare I say, vain society where everything is based on looks," he said.

That's when Atkins turned to the Simms/Mann-UCLA Center, which provides no cost psychological services to patients with cancer.

"The fact of the matter is that the cancer is why they find us but the cancer, I always say, it's like a meteor in your backyard. It happens to you and all of the stresses and anxieties, the sadness, the losses are what we're here to help balance," Lorelei Bonet, a clinical oncology social worker, said.

The care Atkins received there impacted him so much he launched a fundraiser to give back. Half of the sales from the "Live Like A Warrior" T-shirts, a phrase Atkins strives to live by, are being given to the Simms/Mann-UCLA Center.

The initial goal was $3,000.

"We cleared $300 shirts last night. We're approaching 13,000 now," he said.

Atkins is expected to return to work next week after three months of recovery.

He still has cancer present in his body and has to receive treatment every two weeks, but isn't dwelling on his prognosis.

"Enjoy what's happening currently and don't worry about the past or the present because you can't stress about things that haven't occurred or already have occurred," he said.

Atkins says people nationwide have bought the T-shirts and they've even sold some internationally.

The fundraiser ends on Saturday. For more information, click here.

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