The summer after high school graduation should be one of the most carefree periods in a young person’s life. A time to think about the future as the chapter of your childhood comes to a close.
18-year-old Joseph Purdue was excited for just that. A multi-year starter for his high school football team in Murrysville, PA, Joe was looking forward to going to Steelers Youth Football camp and spending time with friends before going off to college that fall. But his body had different plans.
Towards the end of July, Joe started experiencing an odd facial tingling sensation accompanied by dizzy spells. He shared his progressing symptoms with his doctor who thought Joe was simply dehydrated.
“I have had so many injuries in football. I know my body,” Joe said. “I knew something more was wrong.”
A second opinion led to the devastating discovery of a 2 centimeter-sized tumor in the pons of Joe’s brain known as diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) – the deadliest form of brain cancer known to man.
“The doctors told me not to search the disease online,” recalls Joe. “But I did. I read about it and it’s not good.”
Still, Joe and his family are determined to fight.
THE GAME PLAN
Through a community of other DIPG families, Joe’s mom, Lisa, learned of a free resource called My DIPG Navigator. The program, inspired by DIPG advocate Jace Ward, who passed away from the disease in 2022, and developed by the ChadTough Defeat DIPG Foundation, is designed to give much-needed, individualized guidance to patients and families like the Purdues. As part of the program, a designated nurse named Ashley is helping to guide the family through the various clinical trials treatment options available to Joe.
“I won’t lie, this journey has been hell, truly the worst nightmare a parent could ever imagine.” said Lisa. “I’m everything from angry, sad, scared, hopeful, discouraged and confused. But most importantly I am grateful for every moment with my son.
ONE PLAY AT A TIME
While navigating a cancer diagnosis is terrifying, Joe credits his time on the football field for allowing him the inner strength to fight DIPG.
“Football prepared me mentally. I am going to get through this,” he said.
Joe has put off college for now but hopes to put the 15 college credit hours he earned in high school to use soon. He was accepted into the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, the alma mater of both of his parents, and looks forward to eventually catching up to the rest of his peers. In the meantime, he is learning how to take on each challenge that faces him with the fortitude of a champion.