What Bravery Means to Me

Connor and David

Jono Nagel Stories

Written by David Dykes, father of 9-year-old Connor, a brain tumor survivor.

To even begin this, I have to explain my history: I’m a Marine infantry veteran and have served with my local sheriff’s office for the last 13 years. I don’t classify myself as brave, but I have witnessed bravery, courage— things that have just left my mouth hanging open. But those moments pale in comparison to the bravery of my son and what he has taught me in his short 9 years.

When Connor was diagnosed with glioblastoma, I was rocked to my core, like most families, I didn’t know the first thing about having a child with cancer. I thought cancer was something people got from smoking or being exposed to chemicals, and I couldn’t have been more wrong. I was quickly introduced to a world like no other; a world that was much bigger and full of more emotions than anyone could imagine.  And I never, in all my life, thought my child would teach me as much as I would teach him.

Sometimes his lessons present themselves in the ‘AH-HA’ moments. Sometimes I’m sitting and watching him interact with the world he has blessed. Anyone who comes in contact with him always comments on how wonderful he is or, like I do often, they smile and shake their heads in utter disbelief at how he sees he world.

Connor was only six weeks old when he began treatment, and while sitting with him as he was getting a shot, I thought of check-ups with my other child, hearing children screaming as they received shots or even just blood pressure checks. The present world would come back to me as I watched my son get a shot without complaint. Most of the time, he would watch the nurses as they treated him. I don’t know if it was his age, and the “treatment life” was all he had known, or if he was just one tough kid. I like to think the latter. It just makes him that more awesome in my world.

That’s just one of the countless times over the years that I have seen bravery in this little man. He’s never complained of any treatment or test that he’s gone through in his entire life. Then there’s the fun stuff, the moments when I see how he’s overcome his diagnosis.

Like the first time he stood at the batter’s box, unsure if he could do what needed to be done. Or, asking and pleading to go on the biggest rollercoaster at the park, only to look at me as we are almost to the top and saying “Dad, what was I thinking, this is gonna be crazy!”

Or, the time he was given a solo in the school’s musical. I stood there holding my breath. He never told us he had a solo! He got to the microphone, leaned into the teacher and asked for his lines. He gave a thumbs up to the crowd and sang his heart out. It was the most beautiful six words I have heard. He has stood in front of crowds and spoken about being a cancer survivor—something that most adults, including myself, fear more than death itself.

Time and time again this little boy of 9 years old has shown me what it is to be brave.