Gregory Johnson

We had just returned from Myrtle Beach and gotten back into our routine of work and baseball. My family consists of 15-year-old Greg, 12-year-old Mark, 5- year-old Tracy, and my wonderful wife, Sharon. I was coaching baseball for Mark's team and had just gotten home on a Tuesday night. Greg was complaining of a stiff neck and not feeling well.

I figured Greg probably had caught something from my nephew, who had gotten sick while at the beach with us. His temperature was close to 104 so we decided that Sharon would to take him to Scottish Rite Hospital. Around 11:00, I got call from my wife and in a worried voice she told me I needed to come to the hospital emergency room.

They had Greg in a tiny cubicle, and he looked awful. Sharon told me they had done a CAT scan. We waited what seemed to be hours in that room, but finally the doctor came in and said that the CAT scan had picked up a growth in Greg's head. Greg looked up at me with a worried expression and asked, "What kind of growth, Dad?" I patted him on the shoulder and told him we needed to get him well right now and that we would worry about the growth later. Greg was admitted, and after a spinal tap ruled out meningitis, his fever broke that night and he was feeling fine. The neurosurgeon explained that it appeared he had a tumor in his brain and that he would be able to tell us more after studying the MRI and consulting with his colleagues.

When you are told your son has a brain tumor you feel completely helpless. I almost wished we had never taken Greg to the hospital. The neurosurgeon called it an incidental find. Greg had no symptoms, and when the doctors put him through routine neurological tests, he passed with flying colors. Greg's tumor was in the right cerebellum of his brain, which controls balance and motor skills. I thought it was ironic, because Greg's wonderful balance and precision when he pitched in his baseball games always amazed me. He was a tireless worker but I knew baseball didn't matter now. I just wanted my son to live to a ripe old age.

During the 3 weeks before Greg was scheduled for surgery to have his tumor removed, we tried to have as normal a life as possible. Greg played baseball in a summer league with his high school team. I did as much homework as I could during this period to justify the most important decisions I have had to make in my life: Do we have surgery, and which neurosurgeon do my wife and I feel the most comfortable with? It helped to have a baseball friend whose son was diagnosed with a brain tumor 7 years ago. I always wondered how he had gotten that scar on the back of his head, but being sensitive to his feelings had never asked. We consulted with 4 neurosurgeons altogether. Three agreed the tumor needed to come out and one said we could monitor it over the next several months. Three of the doctors left us with positive feelings after our consultation and one left us feeling sick. My wife and I finally decided to go with the doctor that had done my friend's son's surgery. I couldn't believe how strong Greg was while he waited for surgery. His faith in the doctors and God was unbelievable. I would lead our family in prayer each night and on the rare occasions that I would forget Greg was quick to remind me. Once, I was out of town with Mark's baseball team and Greg called me on my cell phone to ask me to say the prayer. I immediately bowed my head that night in the restaurant and said a prayer for Greg back home. As I finished, I noticed my friend and fellow coach had been praying along with me. For a moment we were both oblivious to our surroundings; people in the restaurant talked and the boys on my baseball team laughed but it seemed like time had stood still in our booth.

Anytime there is something wrong with your child you just feel ill. It is a deep down hurt that you try as best you can to heal but it is hard. I resorted to prayer and would often skip lunch at work to go to the local church to pray. I prayed probably more in the three weeks prior to Greg's surgery than I had in my whole life. Our friends and neighbors were so supportive that we could never thank them enough. Greg's school was great too.

A week before Greg's scheduled surgery I went to Greg's baseball game. In the back of my mind I wondered if this would be the last game I would ever see him play in. In the latter part of the game the coach put Greg in to pitch. My eyes swelled with tears and I got a lump in my throat as I watched him warm up on the mound. His face had the same focused, determined look as it had the many other times I watched him pitch. Greg's balance was impeccable on the mound and his fastball was as lively as ever. The umpire was calling a pretty tight game and Greg walked a few more batters than usual and was eventually pulled. I wondered if his impending surgery was affecting his concentration. As he hustled off the field with his chin held high I don't think I had ever been prouder of him. He was everything a father could ask for, a conscientious student, tireless worker and a loving son who gave it his all in everything he took up.

The surgery lasted about 4 hours. My wife and I spent the first hours in the chapel. It was very comforting to be in there all by ourselves and to be occasionally joined by my sister-in-laws and brother-in-law. The last hours were spent in the ICU waiting room with Sharon's sister, Beth, her brother, Steve, my parents, my brother's wife, Shannon and my aunt and uncle. Our friends, the Martins, whose son was operated on by the same doctor seven years earlier, came by and were a blessing. Greg's baseball coach came by and waited with us for a while. Their stories were a source of comfort to us and their presence meant the world to us. A little after 1:00 the doctor came out and told us everything went well. We saw Greg as they wheeled him to ICU. I thought his head would be bandaged or shaved but it wasn't. He had an angelic look about him and as we said hello he could only manage a groan. My wife and I spent the night with him in ICU that Friday night. Greg drifted in and out throughout the night but by the next morning was doing well enough to be moved to his own room. I was amazed at how quick he was recovering. The next morning after being examined by the doctor Greg was discharged from the hospital. We took him home and I'll never forget the look on my neighbor's faces as they knocked on my door to inquire about Greg only for them to see him eating a big breakfast in the kitchen.

Greg is doing great now and shows no effects from his surgery. He is running cross country at his high school and is back to pitching to his dad just like always. The past few months have seem almost surreal, like nothing ever happened but deep down know that no family is immune from adversity. It can occur in every family at one time or another, so be thankful and make the most of every day. Strive to make things better by helping those facing adversity. Sometimes people just need to rally around others who have gone through the same experiences. Greg has been going around the neighborhood getting people to sponsor him in a run, which benefits the Brain Tumor Foundation for Children. Greg has a scar on the back of his head almost identical to his friend's, a scar that I view as a permanent medal that can be worn proudly by all who have gone through the experience of having a brain tumor.