The Story of a Boy with a Brain Tumor

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In John Donne’s poem “Death, be not proud,” the following lines reminded me immediately of a book, Death Be Not Proud, by John Gunther which takes its title from this poem: 


“Death, be not proud, though some have called thee

Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so” (Donne lines 1-2)


The book told the story of a young boy, Johnny who after a long fight, died from a brain tumor.  His family tried every possible treatment they could in an attempt to save him—from surgeries to changes in diet.  Johnny would seem to be healing at times, but in the end, nothing could be done.  Despite the tension all around him, the pain, and the wearing away of his body, Johnny remained cheerful and kind to all of those around him.  His father (the author of the book) struggled to keep himself from falling to pieces. 


His father’s choice of the title “Death Be Not Proud” always has held a two-fold meaning to me.  First, his son’s demise was not pretty.  Numerous surgeries left a hole in Johnny’s head which would seep pus and get infected at times.  At first the title seemed to me to be referring to the fact that death is not a pretty thing, but instead something slow and painful.  However, beyond that, from Donne’s poem (which was on one of the first pages of the book) I realized the title meant more than that.  When I finished the book, I went back to his poem and reread it.  Now, I saw that not only could Gunther be referring to the ugliness of death, but even more likely, he was referring to his son’s resilience until the end.  Death may have been able to batter him, but his son, who was experiencing death, was not intimidated by the “mighty and dreadful” death. 


Katie Vann said:

I thought the connection you found between the book and the poem was really interesting. I agree more with the second reason you stated for why Johnny's father chose the title of his book. Probably because his son was so optimistic he was able to inspire others around him. In a way, Death may have claimed Johnny, but he was able to impact other lives through his suffering.

Maddie Gillespie said:

Everyone can take something a different way, but relating Donne's poem to a book that it was featured in was great. I agree with you that there can be two facets of Death visible in both the poem as well as the book. Death is more often than not uglier than any of us would ever wish it to be. However, that does not go to say that Death cannot be beaten in some form. Little Johnny left an indelible mark on everyone around him; even though Death claimed his body, he cheated Death out of Death's gory glory.

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