"Am I Going to Die Young?"

When champion runner Johanna Olson heard she had a brain tumor she wondered …
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I sat in the doctor's office, cradling my pounding head in my hands. Piercing headaches had been hammering me for days, and I prayed that the doctor would be able to find the cause.

"These stupid headaches had better go away by Saturday," I told my mom. "I have to race in the regional meet. The team's counting on me."

"I know, honey," she replied softly. "Let's see what the doctor says."

I was irritated by Mom's casual response. These were the regional cross country championships! Even though I was only a college freshman, I'd had a great season, and I wanted to keep it going—for me, and for my team.

I sighed and began massaging my aching temples. I looked up when the door opened and the doctor stepped inside.

"We've determined what's causing your headaches," he said. He hesitated, then continued, "You've got a tumor in the parietal and occipital lobes of your brain."

My stomach dropped. What? A brain tumor?! Me? No way! I was a healthy All-American runner who had just led her team to a conference championship. I'd never had any serious health problem. Sure, I'd been having headaches, nausea and dizziness for a few days, but I thought it was just some horrible flu or something. But a brain tumor?

Mom didn't accept it, either. "No!" she insisted. "Johanna's 18 years old. You must be wrong."

"I wish I were," the doctor said. "It's not a huge mass—it's about the size of your thumb. But we must remove it immediately to find out if it's cancerous."

As if that news weren't bad enough, there was more. "This is not an aggressive tumor," the doctor said, "but there's a slim chance it could grow back."

I swallowed hard. I didn't know what to say or think. My head continued to pound ferociously as my mind went numb.

"I know this is a lot to take in," the doctor said. "But I'd like to discuss next steps … "

The doctor's words seemed muffled, distant, like when you're waking up from a dream. But this was no dream. This was my harsh reality. And no matter how fast I ran, I couldn't run away from this.

My Passion

Running Is Life: The Rest Is Just Details.

That's what my favorite T-shirt says. And ever since I ran my first race as a second grader, that's how I've felt. While my friends were jumping rope and playing kickball, I was running.

By the time I reached high school, running was my passion. God blessed me with the gift of speed, and I thrived in a competitive atmosphere. I always believed I could win, and that attitude helped me win five conference championships in cross country in high school.

My success continued during the fall cross country season in my freshman year at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa. But the shocking news of my brain tumor made me wonder if I'd tasted my last victory.

On the ride home from the doctor's office, I looked down at my jittery hands. They hadn't stopped shaking since I heard the diagnosis.

"I can't tell Coach Emerson and my teammates about the tumor," I told Mom, my voice quivering.

"Don't worry, sweetie," she said, reaching for my trembling hand. "I'll talk to them."

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