By Jennifer Williams
Maya Angelou has been quoted as saying, “People will forget what you said. They will forget what you did. But they will never forget how you made them feel.”
John Petrovick made me feel a lot of things.
From the moment I met him at a backyard cookout, John struck me as so genuine, with his larger-than-life smile and offer to make me a cheeseburger. I learned that the then 27-year-old went to law school, ran a marathon and survived brain cancer.
Sadly, one month later John was out running when he had a seizure and realized that the brain cancer had returned. A valiant fighter, John died April 28 at age 28.
Touching tributes flooded his Facebook page, making it clear he was an inspiration to many.
“John’s humor unerringly shed warmth and acceptance,” one person wrote. “Hanging out with him was like stumbling upon a fantastic party that you felt lucky just to attend. What a wonderful gift to have known him.”
Throughout his experience, John maintained a blog (petrovick5.blogspot.com) that revealed a raw honesty about facing chemotherapy, surgery, losing the ability to walk, regaining the ability to walk and not wanting to die. John said he wasn’t trying to be anyone’s hero – he just wanted to live.
The day after John died, I prayed at St. Casimir Church for his family and friends. I wondered, as I watched 10 children preparing to make their First Communion, why I have perfect health and why someone as wonderful as John had it taken from him.
As the children renewed their baptismal vows, I found myself making a promise of my own. I decided that I will try to do one good thing each day, as a tribute to John, and in gratitude for the life and health that I have.
With graduation season upon us, I would like to share some advice from John.
At John’s funeral May 4, hundreds of people filled the wooden pews at Our Lady of the Fields Church in Millersville.
Unbelievably, or I guess I should say believably, John composed his own “eugoogly,” (a reference from the movie “Zoolander”) which was delivered by his mother.
“I’d ask that when you shed tears, when you get angry or feel agony, when you want to look at the sky with anger and want to shout, that instead you use that energy to make a difference in a way that aligns with the goal I have had all along,” he wrote. “That goal was to have people I met think they were a little better for having known me.”
It’s difficult to believe that just six months ago, John ran the Baltimore half marathon alongside his doctor. In January, he wrote a letter to cancer telling the disease that he will not just curl up and cry and just give up.
A Road ID bracelet placed at John’s gravesite read:
“John Petrovick your fight will live on forever. See you at the finish line.”
John has raised much money and awareness for cancer research, and I don’t imagine that will stop even now that he is gone. Make sure you take time to give something back to others.
In a church filled with tear-stained faces, John’s sister quoted Mae West.
“You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.”
Jennifer Williams is the Web editor for CatholicReview.org. This is an adapted version of an entry on her blog “Imprint,” which can be found at CatholicReview.org under the “Commentary” tab.