Cancer Survivor Josh Brent Keeps Promise to Bring Tears to South High School Student Eyes

15-year old brain cancer survivor Josh Brent speaking to Crystal Lake South High School assembly.

When you take a speech course, the teacher gives this advice:

  • Tell them what you are going to tell them.
  • Tell them.
  • Tell them what you told them.

In Crystal Lake South High School’s Freshman Josh Brent’s speech, he followed two-thirds of that advice.

Josh Brent had fun giving the speech.

The first two-thirds.

“I’m going to bring tears to your eyes,” was his opening line as he stood on the stage of Crystal Lake’s South High School at a St. Baldrick’s Day rally sponsored by the Key Club, a high school version of the Crystal Lake Kiwanis.

The summary was not needed.  Handkerchiefs were.

What’s St. Baldrick’s Day?  Take a look at the web site.

It’s something a couple of New York City advertising folks dreamed up after a discussion that St. Patrick’s Day should be about more than going out and getting drunk.

People shave their heads and end up looking like chemo patients.

But there were some serious memories Josh Brent had to process.

They ask people to donate money for kids’ cancer research.

Here’s what’s been done locally:

  • McHenry West High School, 65 shavees, $6,222 raised (all figures through mid-day yesterday; you can still contribute here)
  • McHenry East High School, 29 shavees, $12,599
  • Crystal Lake South High School, 34 shavees, $7,230
  • Crystal Lake Kiwanis Club, 90 shavees, $24,366
  • Woodstock High School, 40 shavees, $18,071

(McHenry West Assistant Principal Carl Vallianatos says that $45,000 is expected to be raised in McHenry.)

Total raised by the self-described “world’s largest volunteer-driven charity for childhood cancer research?”

While several teens were shaved or had at least eight inches of hair cut off (in the case of girls) on the auditorial stage, most got their extreme haircuts after school in "The Pit."

Over $100 million raised since its founding in 2000.

But, let’s get back to Josh.

Six years ago this month, Josh was in third grade. He had head aches. When he started watching TV with a hand over his eye, his parents ramped up from the pediatrician to an ophthalmologist (an eye doctor).

Very soon he was off to a hospital, where his family was told that he had a 40% chance of surviving the brain cancer that had been diagnosed.

The Bear Necessities Foundation held a McDonald’s Party for him and some friends. The Make-a-Wish Foundation couldn’t deliver on a wish Josh had regarding the Cubs. His second choice, a swimming pool in the back yard was more lasting, as he said with a broad smile.

The surgeon said that the tumor was wrapped around Josh’s eye. When he touched it, it opened like a the fingers of a closed fist. Not a common occurrence.

The folicals are cut away.

The physician told Josh’s parents that it wasn’t his hand operating.

He became known as the “miracle child.”

After Josh’s talk several students had their heads shaved on stage. Many more lined up in “The Pit,” when I returned after school.

Josh was first.

He’s an old hand at this.

Off came the hair, including a little pony tail that he had rubber banded at the middle of the back of his head.

There were two scars.

The first, his father Richard told me, was to relieve the pressure on the brain before the operation to remove the tumor.

Josh's father Richard Brent smiles at his son. His turn for a total haircut came later.

The second ran down the back of his head.

Afterward, as I saw upperclasswomen gathered around, I figured out and told him his scars were “chick magnates.” That thought had not occurred to him.

The barbers had lots of fun taking off the teens’ and teachers’ hair.

I had fun showing the boys who had the middle of their heads shaved first what they would look like thirty years from now.

Horns showed up on one boy’s head.

Josh Brent seems surprised at what he sees in the mirror

Not to worry, though.

There were wings on the back.

The shavee didn’t accept my suggestion that he go like that to church.

He ended up bald.

So did thirty-three others.

The shaving was not finished until 5:30 and it started after school at three.

Two long-haired girls decided on the spot to donate eight inches of their hair.

Had to get permission from Mom first.

After the snipping, one commented, “I feel lighter already.”

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