All-Star John with his Mom after a race

All-Star John

Diagnosis: Germinoma Brain Tumor

“Before I had cancer, life was great,” explained John. “School was going well. I was having a great time with sports. I had a lot of friends.”

John was just ending his sophomore year of high school and was a valued member of the school rowing team. One day, everything changed.

In May 2021, John started getting bad headaches, double vision and vomiting. These symptoms ramped up quickly, but a doctor’s visit resulted only in John being told that he had heat exhaustion; he was told to buy some popsicles.

John continued to feel unwell.

“It was the worst feeling ever. I thought it was never going to end. Finally, I went to the ER. I really don’t know what happened there; I was so out of it. They put an IV in my arm and did scans. They then sent me to Chicago. I learned in the hospital that I had a germinoma brain tumor. I don’t remember exactly when I was told. The doctor told me everything that could go wrong with me. That was very hard. I was scared.”

John had three surgeries right away. The first was to place a shunt, then he had a third ventricular ostomy, allowing the cerebrospinal fluid to drain until the tumor shrank. Lastly, he had a biopsy to see what kind of cancer they were dealing with. He immediately started chemo, followed by radiation.

“I was shocked. I never thought it would have been me that could get something like cancer,” said John. “It was hard and annoying, but it gave me a new sense of purpose. I knew that I couldn’t dwell on the karmic implications of this problem. I didn’t think I was going to die. If I wasn’t going to die, it would be a one and done and a fun story to tell at dinner!”

“When I came back to school after my treatment ended, I didn’t have hair or eyebrows. The doctors worked around school with my appointments. I wore a baseball cap; it wasn’t such a problem. People would always ask how I was doing. My sense of smell was destroyed. Food would make me nauseous until I wanted it, so I had to stay away from the cafeteria.”

John was still maintaining the same rigor in school. Thankfully, his brain did not get damaged. The worst thing was that he had to give up rowing.

”I felt that I could never get back to where I was. Now I think that those thoughts were foolish, but they were very real at the time. I had been selected for youth nationals but had had to miss them, which was disappointing.”

When John felt ready, he talked to his coach and asked if he could still participate. He was told he could if it didn’t interfere with his recovery.

“We found out about Pinky Swear towards the end of John’s treatment,” explained Alice, John's mom. “We received an Orange Envelope, which included a gift card and a note from another child. It was great."

“I wasn’t eligible for FMLA. I had to take leave without pay until October. Then I was fired for taking too much leave. Unfortunately, my husband, an independent contractor, couldn’t work either from October to February because of a failed disc in his back.”

“Pinky Swear paid our mortgage in November; this was an unbelievable help and support! At the time, I was unemployed, and my husband was couch bound for several months, and neither of us had any medical leave, so we had no income at all. I was completely overwhelmed with all the family responsibilities due to my husband’s condition and just coming off John’s active treatments. To have this support from Pinky Swear Foundation was incredible and kept us afloat during a really challenging time. Many thanks to you all,” said Alice.

“You were also there when a lot of foundations were not available because of Covid. It was also challenging mentally; only one parent was allowed in the hospital, so John couldn’t see family or friends, and nobody else could drive him there. It was a very strange time.”

John is going to Stanford University in the fall!

“It’s such a fantastic opportunity. I can’t wait to be a part of their team and school. I start there in September 2023,” said John. “My biggest dream is that one day I live in a world where nobody gets cancer. For myself, my biggest hope is that I can make my parents proud.”

"He has already done that and more,” said Alice, smiling.