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MCCULLOUGH: Pain in the head and the heart

Nate McCullough

Nate McCullough

Kickin' Cancer 5K

What: 5K to help Barrow third-grader Will Wagner fight brain cancer

Where: Race starts at Winder-Barrow High School, 272 North 5th Ave., Winder

When: 1K at 7:30 a.m., 5K at 8 a.m. Saturday

More info: To donate without running or for registration info, visit willwagnerswilltowin.com

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Will Wagner

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Jordan Bracken-Howley

I never thought a lot about brain tumors prior to November of last year.

Then again,who does? For most people, they’re the stuff of bad TV melodramas, not things that happen to actual people — until it actually happens to you. Then, once you’ve heard those two words from the doctor, you become pretty sensitive to them wherever they show up.

Last week, a 17-year-old Apalachee football player named Jordan Bracken-Howley died in bed. The cause was a brain tumor.

It got to me. Gets to me. I didn’t know Jordan, but his photo shows a promising, fine young man. They say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but the look on someone’s face often conveys more information than the picture’s thousand words. And Jordan looked like a good kid.

And now he’s gone. Taken by the same thing that grows in my head, the only difference being the name. Jordan’s tumor was pituitary. The top expert in the world hasn’t been able to name mine yet.

I live in Barrow County and on Saturday I passed the funeral home where Jordan’s memorial was held. I could see the Apalachee football players in their jerseys standing outside in teammate solidarity. It was hard enough trying not to cry. But then I had to explain why they were in their jerseys to my 12-year-old daughter. I didn’t tell her Jordan’s cause of death. She worries about me enough.

These things don’t make sense to me in their gross unfairness. I’m 42, and other than near-constant headaches and some occasional balance problems, I’m doing OK, for now. Jordan was 17. And that’s all he got — 17 years.

I’ve said it before: We all know life can be unfair and cruel, but sometimes it’s just downright evil in its distribution of misery.

But life can also be spectacularly serendipitous in the connections made in this small world.

Let this be a small part of Jordan’s legacy, that because of our common bond, his passing spurred me to ask you to help another kid with a brain tumor in Barrow County.

Will Wagner is in the third grade, and he has a form of cancer in his brain. On Saturday morning, a 5K will be held to help Will in his fight. You can run the 5K and get a T-shirt for a $25 registration fee, or if you’re like me and its been awhile since you showed up anywhere early to run, you can be a “Phantom runner” and just donate to the cause.

These things are hard enough on us grown-ups. But 17 is too young to die. Third grade is not the time of your life when you should be fighting cancer.

Honor Jordan and help Will by donating to Will’s cause. Help the kid see 17. And 42. And 82.

Help Will finish his race so he can get on with life’s journey.

Email Nate McCullough at nate.mccullough@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Fridays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/natemccullough.