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Heroes Project 2019: John Bryan

Don’t sweat the small stuff; there’s no point worrying about it. Surround yourself with people that make you happy.

How do you convince a teenager that not getting a date to the prom is not the end of the world or that getting cut from the team puts them in good company? In John Bryan’s case, it was a diagnosis of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL).

“I went from worrying about my part-time job and my homework to contemplating my life and if I would even have a future.”

High school seniors get the questions all the time. Where are you going to go to school next year? What are you going to be studying? What do you want to be when you grow up? But when faced with the prospect of not growing up at all, life takes on new meaning. Just ask John.

“It completely changed the way I thought about everything. I can’t even remember what I thought was important before my diagnosis; it seems trivial.”

There was nothing trivial about the day he got the diagnosis. He was closing up late the night before at the pizza joint where he worked, and felt a cramp in his side. So tired he could barely drag himself out of bed the next morning, John left school after three classes and headed to the doctor where he was told he had an enlarged spleen. He was sent to Scottish Rite immediately for tests. When, after two hours, a hematologist came out, John knew it was leukemia.

“As soon as he told me I was diagnosed I didn’t even take time for an emotional response. I just said, ‘Where do we go from here? What’s treatment look like? Let’s jump right into it. I’m already looking forward.’”

His parents, Wayne and Pam, were in tears so John focused on the doctor. “I said, ‘Let’s go. Me and you.’” It wasn’t a case of denial, it was a case of getting down to business.

“I’ve never been one for drama. I wasn’t looking for the whole pity, why me kind of thing.” Instead he went through the chemotherapy thing. After the first four months of “the hard phase”—weekly chemo treatment—John was declared cancer-free. But he knew more lie ahead. Eleven months of chemo—during which time he lost his hair twice—then maintenance treatment for two and a half years, oral chemo at home, monthly chemo at the hospital. His appetite shot, John shrunk to 102 pounds.

“It was brutal. I woke up every day feeling awful,” remembers John. “I never felt bad from the cancer because it hadn’t progressed far enough. But feeling bad is the way you’re cured, and I understood that.”

The final chemo treatment came three and a half years after his diagnosis and just days before his 21st birthday.

John’s now enrolled at Georgia Gwinnett College pursuing a career in marketing with a goal of graduation in 2021. Something he won’t necessarily be taught in college is something he’s already learned through his battle with leukemia.

“Don’t sweat the small stuff; there’s no point worrying about it. Surround yourself with people that make you happy. Avoid spending time on negative relationships. Pursue a career and a life that’s fulfilling and meaningful.”

“Life,” John is quick to point out, “can be short.”

John’s story made possible by a grant from Talbert Insurance Services

Thank you, Larry, for helping us to share John’s inspirational story.

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