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Johnny Losurdo’s winning entry from Gilda’s Club Chicago’s essay contest

John Losurdo with his parents Anthony Karen Gilda’s Club award ceremony

John Losurdo with his parents Anthony and Karen at the Gilda’s Club award ceremony

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Updated: March 28, 2013 8:00PM



My name is Johnny, and I was diagnosed at 4 weeks old with Stage IV Neuroblastoma. Neuroblastoma is an aggressive children’s cancer with one of the lowest survival rates today. The birth of a child is most often filled with great memories of joy and happiness. But not every family will follow this path. Being diagnosed with cancer affects more than just the person with the disease. It is a lifelong journey of ups and downs.

My parents tell me that the first two years of my life were the most traumatic. I went through chemotherapy, numerous surgeries and a multitude of biopsies, scans and transfusions. My parents had to spend most of their time dedicated to my healthcare, working two full-time jobs and taking care of my 2-year-old sister. My initial surgery appeared hopeful, and the first round of chemotherapy appeared to be working. The celebration would not last long, as subsequent scans would reveal that the cancer had spread to my liver and bones. My first Christmas involved an emergency visit to the hospital and an extended stay through New Year’s Day that involved low blood counts and a persistent RSV infection.

The next rounds of chemotherapy would be more successful, and years 3-5 involved constant check-ups and visits to the hospital. It was during these years that I first started to become aware of my circumstances. No child likes going to the doctor for a normal check-up because of the occasional shot or vaccine. My visits would always involve routine blood draws, and I would soon develop a fear of needles. Sadly, this fear would intensify with each and every visit. It would take multiple nurses to hold me down to take a “simple” blood draw.

At age 5, my cancer was said to be in remission and there was a strong sense of relief for this milestone. As I started grade school, I learned that I was somehow different than the other kids. I have Horner’s Syndrome, which affects my right eye and upper torso. One eye is blue and one eye is green, my pupil does not dilate and occasionally my lid droops. I do not sweat on one side of my face and upper torso, and turn red and flush on one side during any physical activity. Kids would sometimes tease me for this “imperfection,” which led me to ask the same questions to my parents. Being loving and protective, they gently explained about my condition and that even though I am somewhat different on the outside, what matters most is what is on the inside. Conversations like this started to shape the person I would become.

Middle school and early high school would continue to present additional challenges. Participating in gym class and feeling self-conscious about my scars would sideline me from swim class, once again making me stand apart from the other kids. Whether it is genetics and/or the chemotherapy I received at an early age, I am shorter than most people. As we all know, the “short kid” will get picked on and will probably be called various names. Two of the most hurtful things were being called Cancer Boy and being told the only thing that I was good at was catching cancer.

Because of my hardships, I started to find an outlet in music to help escape the world. I began to write poetry and song lyrics that would express how I was feeling at the time. A few of my friends saw my lyrics and said I should rap them, because I enjoyed that type of music. The song is named “Fearless” by Johnny L. and it is dedicated to overcoming cancer as well as overcoming any type of discrimination for being different. I am donating the money from this song, which you can buy on iTunes, to help fight children’s cancer. Every kid deserves a fighting chance, and hopefully with this money we can even find a cure.

Over the past year, I have been trying to raise awareness about neuroblastoma. I have met many wonderful people who also want to help those with cancer. I have had an article written in the Kane County Chronicle, have been on WGN’s “Chicago’s Very Own” and I most recently performed at Soldier Field at a Walk-a-Thon to raise money for children’s cancer research. I have raised and donated money to help the fight against cancer. I have a Facebook fan page, which is dedicated to raising awareness and inspiring others. It has links to my video and links to iTunes, where the proceeds get donated to the cause.

Growing up with cancer has had its ups and downs. It has shaped my character into the person I am today. I have learned to treat others with respect and have learned to live life to the fullest.

I am now 17 years old, loving life and proud to be a cancer survivor. Embrace what makes you different and or unique. Hang onto your dreams and make them last longer.

Anything is possible when you work hard and stay positive. It’s Always Something…but that Something Will Never Keep Me Down! I count my blessings day by day, in darkest times I look for light. Through my battle with cancer and the lifelong effects it has on me I stay strong. With the love and support of my family I am who I am … a cancer survivor.

John Losurdo is a 17-year-old student at St. Charles East High School, and won first place in the Teens Living with a Cancer Diagnosis category on February 27 at the 4th annual Gilda’s Club Chicago Teen Essay Awards Reception. For more information, visit Gildasclubchicago.org.



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