** The following story was featured in Life Stories of the St Joseph News Press last week, and felt it should be shared here with fellow Realtors. Please take time to read Johnny's Story and purchase one of his books if at all possible.
**Johnny's mom, Jane is a fellow Realtor at my office.
Memoir recounts surviving brain cancer - twice by Erin Wisdom
Thursday, February 5, 2009
Photo by Jessica Stewart
St. Joseph native Johnny Cathcart has written a book titled ‘Hotpants: A Memoir.' The Central High School alumnus started the autobiography when he was 17.
Johnny Cathcart knows a thing or two about endurance.
The 23-year-old St. Joseph native showed himself way back in fourth grade to be a distance runner. And he kept running, even through all the headaches he had in sixth grade.
But two weeks into his seventh grade cross country season, the headaches became too bad to ignore. He began experiencing double vision, and his dad, a doctor, grew concerned enough to have him undergo an MRI - one that revealed a gigantic tumor. Left alone, it could have killed him within days.
Johnny underwent surgery the next day to remove the tumor. Thus began a battle with brain cancer he fought not once but twice, first at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., during seventh grade and then again at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City three years later, after a routine MRI showed a recurrence.
The recurrence came as a shock, not only because St. Jude's had a 90 percent cure rate for Johnny's kind of brain cancer, but also because at the time the news of it came, he didn't have any symptoms. He seemed healthy. He was a normal kid attending school rather than doing his coursework by correspondence in a hospital. He was running again.
Even with a second aggressive brain surgery, the chances of Johnny surviving one year were only one in 100, doctors said. The only option for increasing his chances was a high-risk, high-dose chemotherapy treatment at Memorial Sloan-Kettering - one that had a four-in-five chance of killing him in the process of killing the cancer.
"He was extremely sick in the hospital, sicker than anyone I'd ever seen in all my years as a doctor," Johnny's dad, Dr. Rocky Cathcart, said. "His immune system shut down, he had a fever and he couldn't eat - all things we knew to expect during the chemotherapy, but also what you see in people right before they're terminal."
But about two weeks into his monthlong hospital stay, Johnny turned a corner - and he didn't look back. He also reached a turning point in his faith.
"In New York, I was at my lowest point," he said. "When you're in a hospital room, so alone, you have to reach for God."
After another stint at St. Jude's for radiation following his chemotherapy treatment in New York, Johnny returned to Central High School, where he was now a sophomore. He returned to running and picked up right where he'd left off with the nickname - Hotpants - he'd earned in eighth grade due to the short, hot pink Umbros he'd borrowed one cross country practice when he'd forgotten to bring shorts of his own.
Throughout his second cancer treatment, his teammates had worn "Johnny Hotpants" patches on their uniforms. They rallied around him in support when he returned from treatment, too - and they weren't the only ones. Absolutely everyone knew who Johnny was. Everyone was his friend, and as much as he appreciated the support, it was also a reminder of how he stood out during a time when what he wanted most was to fit in.
But he did have friends who knew him outside the context of being the "kid with cancer," including Cory Brooks. They'd met as 13-year-olds at Wyatt Park Baptist Church, where they'd go to the church's gymnastics room after Sunday worship services and use the mats for wrestling matches.
"I never saw him as different or fragile," Cory said. "He was the same ol' scrapper John, and if he set a goal, he was going to go after it."
And his endeavors weren't limited to the classroom or the cross country team. At 17, Johnny began writing "Hotpants: A Memoir" about not only his cancer, but also his life in light of it: his battle with God and his struggle to be accepted as a normal high school athlete.
He wrote most of the book, which he describes as "comedy meets philosophy meets cancer," while studying film production at Webster University in St. Louis. A book release and signing party will take place from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday at Gallery 7, Seventh and Francis streets, and more information about the book is available at www.johnnyhp.com.
This project finished, Johnny is focusing his attention on a documentary film about - what else? - cross country runners. He's come a long way from the boy sick in a hospital bed with all the odds against him, and his dad thinks he knows why Johnny became such an unlikely survivor.
"In looking at the kind of kid he's become and what he's accomplished already, I just think he hadn't finished."
Purchase Johnny's Memoir