My Life Almost Ended 7 Years ago

Hello, everyone! My name is Josh Perry and I’m a professional BMX athlete, a multiple brain tumor survivor who lives with 4 brain tumors, and a Certified Holistic Health Coach. I love what I do. I love to learn about food and its role in our health and quality of life. I also love helping to inspire others to take control of their diet and lifestyle choices to lead a healthy and happy life.

I originally wrote a version of this while on a C-130 in Iraq in March of 2011. I envisioned this being an article for Ride BMX magazine but it never made it that way. While flying with a crew of riders and skaters to Baghdad, for our next performance for the troops, reality kicked in and I was inspired to at least write what came to mind and how I felt. I have severely altered this post over the last few years but it still holds truth to the initial spark of inspiration.

So, here it goes….

Ever since I first saw x games on television, all I wanted to do was ride BMX bikes. All throughout childhood I was always asked what I wanted to be when I grew up. My answer was always a professional BMX bike rider. I had been on a bike ever since I can remember. My mom says I was about 3 or 4. She tells stories of me coming down the driveway hill on a plastic tricycle and jumping off last minute into the grass yelling, “BAIL!!!”.

I had always found ways to jump things with my old bike that was not intended for tricks. A sheet of plywood on a cinder block, some dirt on a log I managed to dig up, or other obstacles I could find around the neighborhood. I slowly ventured to the skateparks with my bike and discovered reliable obstacles (ramps) to ride on. This was a game changer.

For Christmas one year, my dad bought me my first BMX bike. It was a Haro “Backtrail” which was a Ryan Nyquist (the rider I saw on TV that inspired me to ride) pro model bike. From then on I was hooked.

Once I got into high school I stopped playing school sports and pursued BMX to the fullest. I was always missing school for contests in other states or on road trips with my older friends. I even worked out a deal with my gym teacher, which happened to be my last class of the day, to skip his class to leave school early and go ride. He gave me an A as long as I provided him with a riding video to show I was really being active and following my dream.

Growing up in middle school and high school I did pretty well with my grades. But, teachers put me down for my immense interest in BMX.  I was always told, “you’re never going to succeed at bike riding and need to study and get a real job”. In retrospect, I probably shouldn’t have had my book lined with BMX magazines or, had been drawing ramp set-ups in my notebooks instead of taking notes. Funny thing is, I did succeed and I have seen more of the world than most of them can say they have. I don’t mean this to sound cocky or disrespectful but if it weren’t for that bike of mine, I wouldn’t have been to countries like Iraq, Saudi Arabia, India, Spain, France, etc. I not only got to walk on the land of countries we learned about in school, I got paid to ride my bike in those countries and had experiences that can’t be taught.

I got to see the places we all learn about in school and actually got to touch the ground of those places. I got to experience the culture and learn way more than being in a classroom looking at it in a book or, listening to a teacher describe a place they may or may not have been to. I have seriously had my view on life, and what we take for granted on a daily basis (like clean running water), turned around 180 degrees. Being able to spend time in these other countries, and observe how they eat and live, is truly amazing.

Today marks 5 years that I had to have my skull cut open to remove a benign, meningioma brain tumor that took up the left side of my brain. It was growing into my brain from a layer of my skull called the meninges and it was pushing down on my optic nerve. This was giving me the craziest headaches and making me go blind. I remember the headaches being so bad and feeling so nauseous from the pain, that I had to have my friend Johnny Deadwyler drive me to the Urgent Care because I couldn’t drive.

It wasn’t until I hit my head while riding one day,

and had to get an MRI, that I would learn I had a tumor growing in my skull. I remember that feeling of being told, “there is something in your brain that doesn’t belong there. It’s a brain tumor. We don’t know if it’s cancerous or benign, but we do know your life depends on its removal.” I don’t know if anyone can relate to being told something as catastrophic as this and the feeling that comes along with it, but it is something I don’t wish on anyone. I instantly felt my world turn upside down. I couldn’t speak and the more the Urgent Care doctor spoke, the more everything went silent and tunnel vision set in. I couldn’t sit there and had to move. I got up and just walked out. I think I remember people yelling my name to stop but I didn’t care. At that moment in time, I believed my life was over and I had to get out of that room.

I went into my truck and just sat there in shock. Reality finally set in and tears just rolled down my face. I was just sitting there, alone, thinking this is it and I am about to die. I finally reached my goal as a professional BMX athlete. I won my first pro contest (and best trick to win a Harley) a year prior, rode in X-games for the first time, was approaching my 3rd or 4th year on the Dew Tour, and I felt I was on top of the world. I remember thinking, “Well, shit. Who do I tell? Do I tell anyone? What do I do with my things and money? Do any of these things even matter? Am I going to be alive long enough to do anything else? Will I ever get to ride my bike again?”

The first thing that came to mind was that I had to call and tell my mom. I called and she answered but I just sat there. I opened my mouth and tried to speak but nothing came out. I tried a few times and still nothing. She said my name and kept saying, “what’s wrong, Josh.” It’s a mother’s internal instinct to know something is wrong without words being spoken. She knew something was wrong. I then just started to ball my eyes out and finally said, “Mom, I just had an MRI and I have a brain tumor. I don’t know what to do.” Silence followed this statement as we both had no clue of what to say. I followed our phone call up with a text to my girlfriend at the time, Charlotte Boxley, and best friend, Brandon Christie. Brandon was right around the corner. He came and drove around with me to keep me company. We basically just drove around listening to music, both balling our eyes out and expressing how much we meant to one another.

This was also a crazy time for Charlotte and I because we were not officially “together” yet. We had been hanging out and doing our thing for about 3 months at this point. Charlotte is an amazing human being and was there for me every step of the way. From that day on, she never left my side and I am so thankful for her and me to have had our lives come together.

I remember being prescribed pain meds after one appointment. I don’t do well with those at all but I was in so much pain that I took them on our drive home. I think it was about 15 seconds until I felt a nauseous feeling approaching and asked Charlotte to pull over. As she pulled over I projectile vomited all on the floor mat and basically fell out in my efforts to keep it out of the truck. I was vomiting so much, and harshly, that blood started to show. This scared the shit out of me. Turned out it was just a burst blood vessel and very common. I remember feeling so bad and saying, “I am so sorry, I promise I will clean it up.” I was full of so many emotions and not sure why embarrassment was one of them. Charlotte was of course so chill about it, that really helped me in this time. I felt so vulnerable and weak but she always made me feel better.

The first doctor told me I wouldn’t be able to ride ever again. He followed that up with explaining that I  wouldn’t have long to live if it wasn’t immediately removed. Later on, after seeing Doctor Allan H.Friedman of Duke University, the best neurosurgeon in the world, he was confident in that he could remove the tumor. He had my surgery date scheduled immediately and the hospital actually had to reschedule other patients with not as severe tumors as mine to get me in ASAP. Dr. Friedman informed me of the risks of such a surgery and they were no joke. He said I could not wake up, may have to have shunts put in, or I could wake up paralyzed, blind, deaf, and or have a stroke.

On April 16th of 2010, after a 6-hour surgery, Dr. Friedman successfully removed the tumor and it was said to be a benign (non-cancerous) tumor. This was great news and thankfully I woke up pain-free with a smile on my face. Not because of all the intense drugs I was hooked up to but because I was able to see, hear, smell, talk, and move. I saw my parents first, followed by Charlotte and my brother Danny.

I was amazed to have no pain, be alive and able to hear, see, and move my body. I recovered extremely well and was let go 2 days after surgery. They said this was very uncommon and I owe every bit of my strength to BMX, Charlotte, my parents, the rest of my family, friends, the BMX community, and all the great people out there that expressed their love and support to me whether or not they knew me.

5 weeks later I was back on my bike. It started off slowly and frustration began to kick in. Not only because how “off” I was feeling, with coordination and balance, but because my friend and physical trainer Trish Bare Grounds was not allowing me to get too ahead of myself.  At this point, it was still very fresh and I was ordered to not let my tires leave the ground. That changed after some arguing that I was fine and convincing to allow me to do a barspin onto the deck of the ramp followed by a tailwhip. This went on for a few hours and I finally settled for what I already had done.

I think it was about 10 weeks later I was back on a plane to Europe to compete in a contest that I had qualified for the finals. Sine then, I have continued to film videos, ride contests, perform for BMX demos and shows, and have found a new passion for nutrition and holistic healthcare. I love sharing my story with others in hopes of inspiring them to live life to the fullest.

Point to my story is I that I had a dream that consumed my life. Even though I was always told by others that I wouldn’t succeed, and I was faced with life or death obstacles, my friends and family stuck by me and I made my dream come true! When the day comes that I can’t ride as much anymore, and decide to move onto something else, I won’t be bummed because of all that I have done and experienced in my lifetime. I’ve accomplished my one and only goal as a child of becoming a pro BMX athlete and in doing so; I have gained other passions and goals to work towards achieving.

So I want anyone reading this to never doubt yourself. Take any opportunities that arise and stick to what you want in life, no matter who tells you that you can’t do it! It’s a miracle we are living human beings and so many people take that for granted. They end up limiting themselves to what others think they should do, rather than pursue what makes them happy and fuels their soul. You never know who or what may come into your life for following your heart. It’s inevitable that you’re going to make mistakes along the way. You and others may get hurt, but what’s important is that you learn from these mistakes and continue to grow into the person you want to be.

I’m grateful to be here today, still riding my bike and sharing my passion for BMX and nutrition with others. I can’t thank all of you enough for the get well wishes, support, and love over the last few years! Don’t let any challenges in life bring you down or stop you from pursuing your dreams. Don’t give up and don’t be scared. Live your life!

So now go ride your bike, or do whatever it is that makes you happy, and just enjoy life without fear! Take care and don’t stop dreaming!

-Josh P.

(Written: April 16th, 2015)

(Updated: June 7th, 2017)