Being diagnosed with a life-threatening brain tumor is not something anyone wants to hear, let alone a 21-year-old young adult living his dream. But, in March of 2010, I experienced this first hand after a new trick attempt had gone wrong.
Let me back up a little bit and fill you in some of my past childhood before people make assumptions about my life, one way or another.
People look into my life from an outside perspective and are quick to judge. They think, “He is so lucky to ride a bike for a living and not work” or “he’s from Cape Cod and has it easy,” etc. They don’t see the past years growing up abused by a bi-polar drug using drunk, being put down by step family members (my blood family was more supportive than I could have asked), and teachers telling me I am not going to make it. They don’t see the struggle of coming from a low-income family that struggled to make ends meet and lived pay check-to-pay check, leaving me with a bike re-welded three times and always breaking parts. They don’t see the start of being set up for failure from a deep-rooted subconscious belief, passed down from generation to generation, that you had to work for others and hardly get by while working your ass off.
Let me make something clear, in the most positive way possible, what I do is indeed “work. Maybe not what most consider work, because I love what I do and wouldn’t have it any other way, but it indeed takes hard work, effort, and long ass days. But that is what it takes to make a dream a reality. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.
My family taught me the value of hard “work” at a young age so I could afford bike parts via working at gas stations, landscaping full-time, department store jobs, etc. That work ethic shaped my personality and perspective on life that had helped me get to where I am now by channeling the work ethic and energy into my dream and not stopping even when I wanted to give up. I thought, “F*%$, I can work my ass for these people and help make their dreams possible, why not take a risk on my dream and see how it goes? I can always get a job if it doesn’t work.”
I see this now, but back then, I didn’t consciously know what my subconscious was saying and how it was leading me towards success. I was just so set on taking action towards my dream that I didn’t even know my subconscious belief of hard work combined with my desire to live out my dreams, was what would lead me to become friends with my idols. I would later find myself on the same ramps as I saw on tv, competing against them all around the world, and being an inspiration to many with all my struggles and success in life.
As for school, I did decent in classes with B’s and C’s, the occasional D. Mostly because I was so focused on riding that I wouldn’t study much after completing my homework. I would just go ride. My mom had two rules when it came to school: 100% effort in class and completed homework before riding. But it was difficult to give 100% when my mind was so set on a dream that was outside of academics and when teachers would put my dream down and say “you are not gonna make it and need to focus on class.”
I remember this one “CAD” project I had in my landscape design class and how much negativity was in this woman’s life who taught the class. I don’t judge because that is where she was in her life and I can respect that, but at the time I was furious and full of hatred towards her. But, the project was to design your dream house landscape. I did so, very well as I love landscape design. I also nicely designed dirt jumps in the back that had grass grown all over them nicely, except the riding surfaces, as well as a sick backyard ramp.
All designed beautifully into the landscape and house set-up. She was so spiteful she failed me until I took all the BMX related design out. I wish more than anything I wasn’t conditioned from my abusive step-father to have had a voice at that moment and call her out and go to the principle about this situation. I now say what I believe is right, no matter who I may offend or piss off. I’d rather be true to myself and stand up for what I think is right, rather than have no voice. There is too much of that going on in the world, and I am changing that with myself. I am a big believer in being the change I want to see in the world. We can only control our actions and may as well utilize or free will to do so, or don’t complain about things that don’t go your way.
Another brief story with this woman, she sent me and best friend to the principles office for being giggly in “theory” class first thing in the morning. She suspected us of being on drugs rather than just goofy teenagers full of energy and laughter. I never touched, nor saw a drug in my life at the time and made that a priority because my goal was to be a pro and my perspective was I could not drink or mess with drugs if I wanted that to be the outcome I desired.
When I was 17, I made the decision to drop out of high school to pursue BMX, which is a story of its own. Long story short, I entered a video contest on VitalBMX.com sponsored by Haro Bikes offering ten spots to be flown out to Greenville, NC (I dreamed of going here to train with Dave Mirra) and ride with the pros and compete for a sponsored spot. I made a 36 hr bus ride out there a few weeks prior with my best friend, Brandon, to check it out. Met some of the dudes and rode the facility where we would be competing.
I was picked as one of the ten riders around the world and was flown out to compete a few weeks later. I didn’t win the top spot, but my riding style and skill, my personality, and my sketchy bike awarded me an amateur spot on the team. This would lead me to move to Greenville shortly after and sleep on my friend’s couch who was going to college in the same town, later leading me to pay utilities to sleep on a blow-up mattress in his large living room walk-in closet. Haha, that was such a great time, and I can’t believe it when I think back to what I did to make my dream a reality.
All around the same time, it’s a bit fuzzy being ten years ago; I was offered a month straight of arena motocross/BMX shows touring from Western Canada to Eastern Canada in the dead of winter. That is an entire story of its own, too. From almost dying on the snow/ice covered roads on a cliff, being 18 and getting into clubs, legally, and drinking tons of beer at our own sponsored parties, dancing with girls and my friends holding beers in both hands and in our back pockets, to smoking weed for the first time thinking “I am going to die on this trip”, while some meat-head stubborn dude thought he was invisible to the harsh driving elements and “I may as well try it before I leave this world,” to riding in front of thousands of people for the first time while learning tricks in the actual show, due to the energy and hype of the crowd.
I made a lot of wild and bad choices on that trip but, hey, I was young, living my rock star life dream, and we all start somewhere. I am confident anyone that I come across today knows I am not about that life anymore and live a healthy and holistic lifestyle. It’s also lead to an awesome story I can share as I get older and I had an amazing experience with some of my best friends still today. What’s a life worth living if you’re not feeling, experiencing, failing, and succeeding?
This trip also allowed me to acquire like five grand in a single month, which led me to stay in Greenville and to extend my visit. This is when I moved onto my buddies couch and then, later on, his walk-in living room closet. I laugh just thinking and typing that out. Safe to say I was doing what it took at such an early age. But, at this time I was still enrolled into school as a junior in high-school, my mom and I both forgetting. I was enrolled in a technical high school that allowed me to work for two weeks and attend academics for two weeks.
My school set-up allowed me to make money and fund my travels for national contests. I also remember not making a damn penny off my placings as one of the top athletes in the world and taking my paycheck and putting it right back into my travels/hotels for the next contest. Contests seem to have got worse and worse that now, unsponsored (which is a whole story of its own of why I think the industry is so s*** right now and I, a top ten ranked athlete, can’t get to the contests this year), I am not able to compete due to the cost of travel and prize money not making logical sense to attend.
I remember getting a call from my mom explaining how a letter int he mail said I was expelled and she forgot I had school. She was so used to me traveling and was excited to see me living it up, that we both forgot about it. Particularly because of the two weeks of work program I was in and then cutting to compete and travel to Greenville. Spoiler alert, two years after living in Greenville I decided to finish high school and surprise my mom with the new. She cried and said, “I am so proud of you and never thought you would finish.”
So, at the age of 17, I made the move to Greenville, NC in pursuit of this childhood dream of mine to ride BMX professionally, which went against everything an American society stands for and is full of risks on larger levels than most can fathom. I was living as a professional athlete, in a walk-in closet, who would ride, train, and compete with and against my heroes, like Dave Mirra, in X-Games and other various contests around the world when I fell from 10 feet in the air and hit my head one-day training.
Little did I know on this day, my life would change forever. That crash would lead to a life-saving MRI that revealed a mass taking up a good portion of the left side of my brain. It was a complete shock, but at the same time made sense due to the symptoms I was experiencing that were previously ignored by doctors, like migraines so bad I would throw up and I was going blind due to the tumor pushing on my optic nerve.
Requests for MRIs were denied and instead I was continuously instructed to take pain meds when I got a headache or a migraine. It was just something I was told I would have to live with as a normal part of my regular day-to-day life. If it weren’t for that crash and MRI, I would not be here today. Another thing that shocked my parents and I was the neurologist I would later see telling me that my smoking marijuana stopped the tumor from growing any quicker or spreading, and kept me from having seizures while flipping and spinning 15 feet in the air on my bike. He was confused as to how that wasn’t the case for me until we got to the part about drugs. I don’t consider the plant to be a drug, and I can write so much about this one topic, but it led me to research the plant and its therapeutic effects further. I am not very public about it, until now I suppose, and I don’t promote it due to the ignorance surrounding it, especially with children. I have learned there are harmful methods of consumption and then there are healthy methods of consumption.
When I was first diagnosed, I thought my life was over. I walked out of the office, stunned, as nurses tried to stop me and the doctor tried to share more and stop me as well. I didn’t hear anything. I just wanted out. I tried to call my mom and couldn’t speak for like ten minutes. It was almost as if my conscious was no longer within me for a moment. She knew instantly something was wrong and then it finally came out. She, being a cancer survivor herself, understood my emotions and was there for me more than a mother typically could.
I felt scared, lost, and sorry for myself for a week or so. I then began to worry more about not riding any longer, and that became my main focus once again in my life. I put all my energy into visualizing myself riding one day again and took all the support from friends, family, and people around the world to change my energy into determination like I did to become professional. There became a point my mindset went from fear to “this is just what I have to do and fear no longer serves me,” after the doctor explaining it was surgery or wait until my death. My situation was so bad that he rescheduled other patients of his to get me in as soon as possible.
I believe it was this mindset and the support of others, as well as knowing people like Lance Armstrong went through it and came out on top, so then I could too, that allowed me to overcome this and return better than ever. Not just on my bike, but off my bike too!
I had an immense desire to live and to ride. I made that happen and didn’t give up. I have learned now that if I gave into the disease and gave up mentally, my body and subconscious mind would agree and I may not have made it. A four-hour surgery led to six hours due to the tumor taking up space around the main artery in my brain and pushing onto my optic nerve. If I didn’t want a stroke, death, parlayed, etc. , which I had to sign waivers agreeing to the risk of all of those from the surgery, the doc had to be very precise and slow. He told me all about the surgery six years later when we met again, so crazy how good his memory is!
Since then, as well as being re-diagnosed in 2012 with two new tumors and in 2017 with two additional tumors, I have become very passionate about the importance of holistic health and nutrition, fostering a positive mindset, not giving up when times get tough and supporting others. I enrolled in an online nutrition program called the “Institute for Integrative Nutrition,” where I learned more about nutrition and how to share the message with others.
I have learned that many of my regular eating and lifestyle habits back then were just fueling the disease. It is now my mission to share with others the significance of the power to choose what we put into our bodies and the importance of the subconscious thoughts we have, our right to medical imaging, and the treatment options out there that are not as well-known as they should be. Had I not been denied MRI’s for a year or more, the possibility of not having my skull cut open and having Gamma Knife would have been greater.
My heart has always been in BMX as it’s served me in so many ways. BMX has shown me the world and all the places I learned about in school, took something negative like a crash and saved my life, taught me life skills at a young age, and provided me with an income I could live off of 13 hours away from home at the age of 17. BMX has taught me so much about myself, healthy life/business choices, and what matters most in life.
That is why I have started my foundation “The Josh Perry Foundation,” in partnership with the Athlete Recovery Fund. It’s my way to share all the beautiful things I have learned about life and health through BMX, and my experiences, as my way of giving back support to those in need as well as my sport, who needs it. We will spread our message with non-profit BMX stunt shows for hospitals around the world to support those in need with brain tumors, injuries, and other disorders through BMX, education, and entertainment.
I am grateful and fortunate to be alive and healthier than ever today, and I want to share my passions to help support those in need. Gary Vaynerchuk puts it perfectly “It’s 400,000,000,000 to 1 that we are a living human being”, stressing the importance of gratitude and hard work to make your dreams a reality. I live my life like this to the best of ability while also sharing it with everyone I come in contact with.
Do what you love, live in gratitude, always stay positive when times get tough and don’t be afraid to take a risk. You never know what you may learn and whom you may inspire.
Quest To Progress ep.1: