John Challis was a junior at Freedom High School, Freedom, PA when he was diagnosed with Hepatocellular Carcinoma in June 2006.  Although John lost this battle to cancer on August 19, 2008, his story continues to inspire others. 

His wonderful, positive outlook was a lesson to everyone, young and old, on how to live life to its fullest. John and his baseball coach, Steve Wetzel, formulated the idea of The Courage for Life Foundation in May 2008 when the appointed board of directors had their first meeting. This foundation would reaffirm John’s message that he wanted to share with all, “Live Life to Its Fullest!” Through this foundation the message will be heard. Below are excerpts from an article written in May 2008 by Pittsburgh Post Gazette writer Mike White. This passage introduces both John and his mission, and gives insight into the thought processes of this very special young man.  Please spend time on our site to learn more about John and his message about living life to the fullest.

Teen is running out of innings, but the game still isn’t over

May 4, 2008

It’s been almost two years since John found out about his cancer. He knows the date like a birthday. June 23, 2006. He discovered only recently that doctors didn’t expect him to last through that first summer. “To me, that’s already an accomplishment,” he said.

In the first few months after the cancer discovery, John’s father, Scott, would get up in the middle of the night, peek into his son’s bedroom and see him wide awake, staring at the ceiling.

“He would just be thinking,” the elder Challis said. “He’s always been one who had to try and find an answer for everything. He wants to figure things out.”

Through his own thoughts and through his deep Catholic beliefs, John believes he has “figured it out.” He answers questions with maturity, courage and dignity, traits that have become his trademarks.

“When the doctors told him a few weeks ago about how the cancer was winning, he had a lot of questions about what it was going to be like and about being comfortable. Later on, he broke down with me and you know what he did? He apologized. He was upset because he felt like he was letting everyone down who had been praying for him.”

When asked where he gained his wisdom, he answered, “Through cancer.”

He regularly wears his Freedom baseball hat. Under the bill of the cap is his name, plus this line: “COURAGE + BELIEVE = LIFE.”

We have a unique coach-player relationship. Mr. Wetzel invited John to be part of the team a year ago and John calls the coach one of his best friends. We talk every day, at least on a cell phone, and go to lunch together once a week.

“The kid has changed my life, I cry for him just about every day. I’m 32 and I’m getting married in September. You know what he told me the other day? He told me to save him a seat in the front row of the church, because even if he’s not there, he’ll be there in spirit.

“He just keeps doing things and saying things that are just unbelievable. I know our team will never forget this season because of Johnny.”

The two want to start a foundation in John’s name for young cancer patients.

“Even if [the foundation] is something that can help only one kid or one family, to see people in a different way like I have, it will be worth it,” John said. “Maybe it will help younger people who haven’t gotten to see the finer things in life that I got to see.”

Mike White
Pittsburgh Post Gazette