“When you die, that does not mean you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and the manner in which you live. So live. Live. Fight like hell. And when you get too tired to fight, lay down and rest, and let somebody else fight for you.”
That comment came from ESPN SportsCenter host Stuart Scott after he received the Jimmy V Award for perseverance and determination at the 2014 ESPYs.
It was shared on Twitter 2½ months ago by 2016 Brunswick High graduate Josh Herron, who, like legendary North Carolina State basketball coach Jim Valvano and Scott before him, finally lay down and rested Sunday, at the age of 21, after a seven-year battle with bone cancer.
“He lived life the way it should be lived,” Joe Mackey, Herron’s basketball coach at Brunswick, said Monday. “He got the most out of each and every day. Our slogan at the end was, ‘Win the day.’ Josh won each and every day.
“They say it’s not how many years you live, it’s how you live them. I can’t think of anyone who got any more out of life than Josh. It’s hard for me to say he lost this battle, because he won every day for seven years.”
Herron was a promising basketball and baseball player and an overall sports nut — particularly when it came to anything involving his beloved Blue Devils — when he underwent leg surgery as an eighth-grader in March 2012. Doctors originally thought he had an infection that could be drained, his father Paul said, but a benign tumor also was found.
In December, Herron’s leg pain returned and another surgery was performed. The family learned he had bone cancer in January 2013, though doctors were of the opinion it had not spread. After a round of chemotherapy treatments, Herron was deemed cancer free in January 2014, his sophomore year of high school.
Herron played junior varsity baseball that spring, and following the season attended an open gym for basketball. Within five minutes, he broke his leg precisely where the original tumor had been, his dad said.
Surgery was performed, a plate and screws were inserted and, following six months of rehabilitation, Herron was pitching for the Brunswick varsity baseball team in its first game of 2015, his junior year. After only a few innings, he started experiencing pain and was later diagnosed with a blood disease, requiring the removal of his spleen.
Herron’s senior year went well. After serving as a student assistant to Mackey for three years, he played in seven games for the varsity basketball team and, while he never scored, was the happiest guy in the gym when he got the final rebound in a district championship win over Medina. Herron dribbled out the final seconds before hoisting the ball high into the air.
Prior to that, he made his lone start on senior night as the Blue Devils defeated Shaker Heights to win the outright Greater Cleveland Conference championship, the program’s first league title since 1965-66.
“With where he was physically, he knew he wasn’t able to compete on that (Brunswick) team,” his dad said. “But he was and is a Blue Devil, always, especially with basketball. It’s always been huge for Josh. He’s a big Brunswick guy. He was thrilled to be part of that team his senior season, even though he barely contributed on the court. He was the leader of the bench bunch. He absolutely loved it. Those were his guys.”
Herron was such a team guy he approached Mackey two days before the Shaker Heights game, telling his coach he knew how much was at stake and it was OK not to start him.
“I said, ‘You’re starting. You earned it,’ ” Mackey said.
When the game ended — Herron missed a 3-pointer and two free throws late in regulation — every varsity player climbed a ladder and cut down a piece of the net. Herron went last, cut down the rest and wore the net like a necklace while the home fans in the Brunswick gym went crazy.
“It was a special moment for him,” said Brunswick classmate Michael Quiring, now the starting point guard at Baldwin Wallace University, which Herron also went on to attend with the hope of playing baseball. “Just the journey he went through, the amount of fight he had to put in just to get to that moment, for it to finally come and be able to play with his childhood friends, it was great, but not only for Josh. I was grateful to be on the court with him. It was definitely a special moment for Josh and the community.”
In the spring, Herron played varsity baseball, compiling a 3-4 record and 4.07 ERA with 20 strikeouts in 32⅔ innings. Over the summer, he played for the Lake Erie Warhawks, a highly successful amateur team.
“His senior year was awesome,” his dad said. “He was healthy throughout.”
Herron enrolled at BW, but two weeks into his freshman year he started feeling poorly again. He was diagnosed with leukemia, his dad said, requiring three phases of chemo that would encompass three years.
After the first, most intense round, Herron was diagnosed as cancer free in January 2017 and returned to BW for the spring semester. A bout of depression followed in the fall, but Herron battled through that as well and continued his chemo treatments.
On Sept. 27, 2018, he and his dad celebrated his 21st birthday with a beer. Two days later, he developed a high fever and returned to the hospital. Good periods and bad periods ensued, but Herron never stopped fighting.
“In February, (doctors) told us he wasn’t going to make it,” his dad said. “He had other ideas. He started to get better and it was up and down from there. There were two or three other times we thought he wasn’t going to make it, and he kept fighting back.”
Early Sunday, Herron finally got too tired to fight and lay down to rest, leaving it up to others to continue the battle.
“Josh’s inspiration will last a lifetime,” Mackey said. “He taught me a lot more than I taught him. My life is better because Josh was in it.”
Calling hours for Herron will be 2-8 p.m. Wednesday at Waite & Son Funeral Home, 3300 Center Road, Brunswick. A Mass of Christian burial will be held 10 a.m. Thursday at St. John Neumann Church, 16271 Pearl Road, Strongsville.
Many stories will no doubt be shared during those times, and current Buckeye boys basketball coach Tom Harrington, Herron’s second-grade teacher at Towslee Elementary and a Brunswick assistant coach through Herron’s junior year, has one of them.
Harrington recalled how his former pupil and player, tired but still maintaining a positive outlook, showed up to talk to the Buckeye varsity team prior to the start of the 2018-19 season.
“He never complained, ever, about anything,” Harrington said. “I’ve just never been around a kid as impressive as Josh. He’s more than one in a million. He’s one in a billion.”
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- Blue Devils win on basket at the buzzer