"Am I Going to Die Young?"

When champion runner Johanna Olson heard she had a brain tumor she wondered …
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After Mom pulled in the driveway and shut off the car, I just sat there, paralyzed by shock … fear … dread. Mom reached over, cradling me in her arms.

I slouched down and laid my throbbing head in her lap. I couldn't handle these splitting headaches much longer. My operation was in three days. Will it work? I wondered. Will my headaches stop? I needed relief.

And I needed to process this horrific news, but I didn't know how. Competitive athletics had taught me to tackle any challenge head-on, no matter how difficult. But this challenge was unlike any I'd ever faced. Although I wanted to be positive, I was worried how this tumor would affect me—and my running. After all, running defined me. I couldn't imagine living if I couldn't run. I wanted to know, After surgery, how long 'til I can run again?

I didn't have to wait long to start getting some answers. The surgery went well, and brought great news: The tumor wasn't cancerous! But since I'm so competitive, I didn't celebrate. Instead, I was frustrated by my exhaustion.

"I miss racing," I told my sister Marney a few days after surgery.

Marney smiled and said, "OK, Ms. Competition, back off, will ya? It'll be awhile before you're pounding the pavement."

That's what she thought. Exactly one month later, I went on a 10-minute run. It was brutal, but I slowly improved. And by the end of track season the following spring, I finished in the top five in the 5,000-meter run at the conference championship. I was thrilled to be back at the top of my game.

"I'm Really Scared"

The following September, as I was gearing up for my second cross country season at Luther, I returned to the doctor's office for a routine checkup. The doctor seemed distracted, and excused himself from the room. I sat alone, anxiously tapping my foot on the floor.

Why am I nervous? I'm fine! I told myself. I waited for what seemed like an eternity. When the doctor returned, he looked at me and began, "Johanna, I have some news … "

My heart skipped a beat.

"I'm afraid your tumor has returned," he said.

I felt like a vacuum had sucked all of the air out of my lungs. I fell back into the chair, horrified, terrified, and completely confused.

"This doesn't make sense," I cried. "At my checkup two months ago, you said I was fine."

"You were, and that's partly what concerns me. This tumor is growing fast."

I felt sick. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. How will I get through this?

Then my competitive instincts kicked in. Come on, you can do this! I told myself. You never wimp out when you run. Don't wimp out now! But this was harder than any race, because I knew I could win races. I wasn't so sure about this, though.

On the way home, I prayed, "Please help me, God. I'm really scared. Am I destined to die young? Please, Lord, give me strength."

"We're a Team"

The next day I nervously stepped into the locker room to talk to my teammates.

"How'd the appointment go?" asked Julie, all chipper and clearly expecting good news. My silence told her otherwise.

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