Class of '22Dylan experienced a brain tumor, blindness and a pandemic, knows he can get through anything now
Dylan can tell you what fish are biting in the canal that threads behind his grandparents' house near Lake St. Clair in Michigan.
He can tell you, with buoyant enthusiasm, how to get a fishing license. He can tell you the best size for an ice-fishing hole and where to buy your minnows.
And he can guide you to the bakery most likely to carry his favorite donut — lemon cream with powder on top — because for him, fishing and donuts go hand-in-hand.
He'll tell you all this because he's an “outdoors sort of person.” He knows every contour of the area he calls home even though he's blind.
Besides, “he’s just very sociable,” said his mom, Theresa. “He loves to talk and he loves to help others.”
I thank God every night and every morning that I’m here.
Dylan was born with neurofibromatosis, a condition that predisposes him to tumor growth. When Dylan was 7, an astrocytoma brain tumor threatened his life and pressed on his optic nerve, which caused his blindness. It also affected his speech and caused some weakness on the right side of his body. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital used a chemotherapy treatment that dramatically slowed the tumor’s growth.
Dylan’s tumor is still there — the size of a grapefruit and inoperable because of its location in his brain — but it hasn’t stopped him from fishing.
“I thank God every night and every morning that I’m here,” said Dylan. “And then I start my day."
He's persevered and now he's celebrating the next big milestone: his high school graduation.
“Mom, I’d like to help people”
In seventh grade, once the growth of Dylan's tumor had slowed, he decided to devote his life to helping others — the same way St. Jude Children's Research Hospital had helped him.
The kid with the inoperable brain tumor was on a quest for meaning.
“He just said, ‘Mom, I’d like to help people. Where can I go to help?’” said Theresa.
Theresa remembered how much Dylan had enjoyed visiting with his grandfather when he was doing inpatient rehabilitation after a surgery. They live near a community center for seniors, so she suggested he become a volunteer there.
For four years, he led games, helped with dinner setup and wheeled people to the dining hall.
“I brought them Frosty Treats one day, just to see them smile,” said Dylan. “Because they made me happy, I just wanted to make someone else happy.”
And then the pandemic hit. He couldn’t visit the seniors he’d come to love and he couldn’t go to school.
A hard thing for a people person like Dylan.
“It really put a big damper on me,” said Dylan. “I didn’t like homeschooling; I didn’t like the remote learning. It was, like, too stressful for me. I like being around people and I like being in person.”
So his dad started taking him fishing more often.
Suddenly, the ability to get out and fish when he couldn’t do much else transformed his fishing line into a lifeline.
“I’m determined to do it”
Dylan has spent his childhood surrounded by the waterways that make up the Great Lakes Basin. The water provides entertainment, time with family and the fish they eat on Fridays during Lent.
“I dip the fish into an egg and breadcrumbs mix, throw some butter in the frying pan and we fry ‘em up,” said Dylan’s dad, Mark. “Put a little salt and pepper on ‘em. Some days he’ll eat ‘em faster than I can fry ‘em.”
And, like a form of meditation, the water calms Dylan when he gets anxious about grades. “I put a lot of pressure on myself to make straight A's,” Dylan said.
In the fall, he plans to live on campus at a technical school in Kalamazoo, Michigan, for people who are blind or nearly blind. He wants to be a pharmacy tech someday.
Preparing to leave home has made him work hard to become physically stronger.
“That’s really my joy at school, is working out every day,” said Dylan. “It just gives me some energy and strengthens my arms and legs, too, because I’m weak on my right side.”
He’s also learning computer screen reader programs, such as JAWS, which translates text to audio, helping him read without the aid of another person.
“I’m a little nervous to go out into the real world, but every day I look at what I’ve overcome over the years and what I’ve accomplished.”
There’s hope on every horizon, Dylan has learned.
You could be gazing upon dark, choppy water with nothing biting for hours.
But then suddenly, the bobber dips. You feel the tug on the line — that’s life pulling at you — and you tug back. You pull hard.
“I know I’m going to succeed in life,” said Dylan proudly. “Because I’m determined to do it.”
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