By Pat Shea
Associate editor

High school students from Catholic schools throughout the Diocese of Syracuse and the Diocese of Rochester assembled in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Syracuse Oct. 29 for the annual Mass supporting and honoring life.

Following the Mass celebrated by Bishop Robert J. Cunningham, speaker JJ Hanson, 34, a Catholic, a former Marine and a political advocate, shared with the students his personal journey of triumph over tragedy.

In 2014 Hanson was diagnosed with grade four glioblastoma, a deadly brain tumor. Before his diagnosis, Hanson stated he lived a “fairy-tale life” in Florida with his wife Kristin and his infant son, but one day everything changed when a doctor told him he had an inoperable brain tumor.

“What would you do if you found out an hour from now you were going to die quickly and painfully? If you found out that right now was going to be the end of your life, how would you cope?” Hanson asked the students assembled. “I was living the American Dream. My life was perfect. And then a man came into a room and told me I was going to die. And everything changed.”

Hanson and his wife presented a video entitled, “Every day is a gift,” and spoke of the challenges the couple went through following the diagnosis and how, despite the gravity of Hanson’s health situation, the couple never gave up hope or lost their faith. The Hansons explained how they reached out in prayer and faith to family members and their church community for help. Through their efforts, Hanson received an immediate referral to Sloan Kettering Cancer Hospital and to a neurosurgeon who was able to remove the tumor.

“After surgery I had to learn to walk again, how to speak again, how to write again but I never gave up. No matter how bad a day I was having, I kept thinking about my son James,” stated Hanson. “I learned that life can be beautiful even when it’s painful.”

Now, 18 months after his diagnosis and surgery, Hanson, who is in remission, and his wife speak to others of their love of God and their faith.

“Faith has gotten me through the most difficult times in my life and I encourage all of you to stand up for your faith and never, never lose hope,” stated Hanson.  “You will be challenged and tested on your faith, but it will be faith that helps you through life. The love of this life, the love of the Lord and the love of family is why I am still here and why I am thankful every day. Life is a blessing and we all have to value our life, love our life, defend it and defend our faith.”

Kegan Lance, 16, a student at Bishop Grimes Jr./Sr. High School in East Syracuse, was impressed by Hanson’s presentation. “It was a very inspiring story.”

MaryJo Morris, 15, a student at Tyburn Academy of Immaculate Mary in Auburn, agreed.

“It was amazing to see how strong [the Hansons] are in their faith. It was really moving to hear their story and I am glad they shared it with all of us,” she said.

Watch Father Christopher Seibt’s homily from the Mass below, courtesy Syracuse Catholic Television.

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