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Peace and faith in God a 'no-brainer' for Holtzman PDF Print E-mail
Written by Darci Tomky   

The only evidence that anything out of the ordinary happened in the last few months is the four to five inch scar on the back of his head. “But I’m OK with it because it makes me seem more dangerous.”

With a good sense of humor and an easy-going attitude, John Holtzman took some time last week to “pick his brain” about his recent encounter with a brain tumor.

Peace. Even though just the thought of a brain tumor is anything but peaceful, Holtzman emphasized he had a feeling of peace throughout the situation.

Of course the 25-year-old from Greeley was shocked to find out he had a golf ball-sized tumor on his brain two months ago, but he wasn’t scared.

“It’s not because I’m tough or cool or an expert in hospital procedures or inter-cranial whathaveyou,” wrote Holtzman in a recent blog post about his experiences. “Jesus is what got me through it,” he said.

“Knowing that whatever happened, it wasn’t a super big deal because God is good.”

After discovering the tumor, Holtzman needed to ask himself a question. “Am I going to be thankful no matter what is going on, or am I going to be angry at God for the circumstances?”

He chose to trust God.

John Holtzman, who is feeling great and back to his normal self,
shows off his scar—the only evidence he has of his recent surgery
to remove a golf ball-sized brain tumor.

The story began for this 2004 HHS grad late last summer when he was experiencing weird headaches and eye problems.

Never having much trouble with pain, this “lightning bolt of pain” in his neck was excruciating, and nothing seemed to help. Holtzman tried different pillows, a massage and strong medication, but the pain kept coming back.

The pain wasn’t there all the time, “but when it hurt, it hurt super bad,” he said. For several weeks he simply decided to deal with it, not counting on anything as serious as a brain tumor.

“The times that I would cry out to Jesus for relief from the pain were some of the moments I’ve felt closest to God,” reported Holtzman on his blog. “When I look back at it now, I’m glad He didn’t answer some of those cries because it gave me the idea that maybe what I was dealing with was more serious than just neck pain.”

Still thinking his eye problems weren’t really a big deal, Holtzman went to the eye doctor in late October/early November.

They told him something he wasn’t expecting—he had some hemorrhaging behind his optic nerve.

A few days later Holtzman and his parents Tom and Barb made a visit to a neural ophthalmologist in Greeley. The doctor confirmed the hemorrhaging and suggested a few things that it could mean. One option was a tumor.

An MRI was immediately ordered, and luckily Holtzman survived his unique experience in the coffin-like tube.

He headed back to work in Loveland that same day, not anticipating the phone call he would get just a few hours later. The 25-year-old flew back to Greeley at the doctor’s request to discuss the results of the MRI.

The words brain tumor kept floating through his head. “But why would the doctor want to meet with me the same day as the MRI if it wasn’t something serious?”

It was something serious.

The doctor told Holtzman he had a golf ball-sized lesion on the back of his brain.

After hearing the word “lesion” over and over, finally Barb questioned, “So by a lesion, do you mean a tumor?”

Yes, it was a brain tumor.

The family began to cry together. Holtzman noted it wasn’t out of fear, but mostly out of nervousness for what would happen next and also out of awe because he was finally coming to the knowledge of what the Holy Spirit had been preparing him for all along.

The doctor suggested he rush to the emergency room at University Hospital in Denver, and the Holtzmans did just that.

With a backpack full of clothes, an iPod, a magazine and his Bible, Holtzman made his way to Denver. In the meantime, he let his boss know he probably wasn’t going to be at work at 7:30 the next morning. (Or for the next few weeks!)

The next several hours were a long wait for Holtzman, his parents and his sister Sarah.

He and his mom were allowed to wait in one of the examination rooms until he could be admitted, which ended up being 5-6 hours later, while his dad and sister had to stay in the waiting room among a wide array of other emergency room patients (which may or may not have been very entertaining for them).

One of the doctors eventually made a stop in Holtzman’s room. Even though she wouldn’t be his doctor, she took some time to explain what would probably happen.

Not finding any paper in the room, she grabbed a marker and started drawing on the sheets of the bed. “Yes, really,” said Holtzman. In the picture, she showed him the golf ball-sized tumor on the brain which sits in fluid that runs all the way down the spine. The doctors would most likely make an incision and cut the tumor out.

Even though the hours of waiting seemed like forever, Holtzman appreciated the time he got to spend praying and talking with his mom.

After spending the night in the hospital, what Holtzman expected to be a first-thing-in-the-morning MRI ended up being an 11 p.m. MRI.

Luckily, the long day was not so long because friends and family kept popping in. “Just like a regular day in my life, except for the whole hospital thing,” he said.

This second MRI made sure Holtzman didn’t have any tumors on his spine. That meant he had to be further in the tube for a longer amount of time.

“So I talked to God about what was going on (like he didn’t already know) and just tried to enjoy the fact that I could talk with the One who made me and who was going to heal me as well,” Holtzman recalled in his blog.

The Holtzmans all prayed together early the next morning before the scheduled surgery.

The next four days were a blur. Holtzman remembers the nurses asking him to squeeze their fingers, puff out his cheeks and tell them his name. He remembers seeing everything sideways, like he was Spiderman sitting on the wall.

He remembers hearing the doctors telling his family they thought they got everything and he should be tumor-free. He remembers giving a thumbs up at hearing the good news.

Spending the next few days sleeping a good deal, Holtzman was slowly recovering and getting back to his normal self.

He said more good news came when the rehabilitation staff told him he wouldn’t need to relearn to walk or anything like that.

The next week or so was spent in Holyoke at Holtzman’s parents’ house. “I spent a lot of time in the recliner watching Food Network,” he said on his blog. “I mean pretty much every hour I was awake. Food Network.”

The four medications Holtzman was on still made him feel pretty out of it, so he didn’t do much but take a few laps around the house every once in a while. He felt much more like himself once he could go off the pain medication.

“Fortunately for me, I hadn’t been in a huge amount of pain to begin with. Nothing at all compared to the pain I had been in before I had to get the tumor removed,” said Holtzman. “At first it was a weird thought to know that I wouldn’t have to deal with that pain anymore. It was absolutely a blessing from the Lord.”

As he started to feel better, he put all those hours of Food Network watching to good use and made sure he could still do some cooking on his own. That was a good sign he was ready to return to Greeley.

25-year-old John Holtzman is pictured at left with his coworkers at Lids in Centerra.
The 2004 HHS grad never anticipated needing to deal with something as serious as a
brain tumor, but through peace and trust in God, he made it through surgery and is
now simply enjoying things like work, hanging out with friends and going to church.

Three weeks after the surgery, Holtzman went back to work at Lids in Centerra. He recently found work at Noodles and Company, noting he has dreams of someday opening his own restaurant.

Life is back to normal now, including going to work, hanging out with friends and attending Good Shepherd church in Loveland.

Holtzman said he is thankful he had that church through all of this, as it had been preparing him for this situation before he even realized it.

Looking back, he said, “It’s totally a miracle that I went to the eye doctor.” The tumor, which was thankfully not cancerous, could have been on his brain for years, but he just didn’t have any problems until now.

“I’m definitely a lot closer to God, of course,” Holtzman said. “I know how important it is to trust God no matter what.”

His blog reads, “To paraphrase Francis Chan, sometimes God allows hard things in our lives so we can show the world that He is great and that knowing Him brings peace and joy even when life is hard. My hope is that this is what I’ve done.”

Holtzman hopes after this his family will actually worry less, because they can have peace knowing whatever happens happens.

“I hope I’m an inspiration,” said the humble 25-year-old in hopes his recent struggles will point people to his faith in God.

Holtzman noted his thanks for everyone who prayed, called, sent a message or simply dropped by to say hi.

For more on this incredible story, visit Holtzman’s blog at