Steve and Jennifer Davis celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary in Iceland, allured by the natural beauty showcased in HBO’s “Games of Thrones.” They rode a Super Jeep with 46-inch wheels into the highlands, and then attached crampons to their boots for traction. Beneath a pristine sky, they hiked across a glacier covered in volcanic ash.
A guide led them to a small but stunning ice cave. The glaciers are ancient, he explained, but the caves come and go. With the passing of a few seasons, each transforms and then disappears. New caves form, awaiting the adventurers.
Steve has learned to savor life’s singular and mundane moments in the years since he was diagnosed with glioblastoma (GBM). Some experiences he seeks out, traveling far and wide with Jennifer, the flight attendant he fell for in a co-ed softball league. Other experiences he welcomes as they come: small talk and shared pride with parents at his teenage daughter’s softball tournaments, a sense of serenity while stuck with his son in a suburban Atlanta traffic jam.
The symptoms started around one Halloween. Weird sensations would creep up his left arm, swell in his shoulder and then seemingly pop in his head. They were seizures, but so minor he could maintain a conversation without so much as a grimace.
Jennifer realized something was wrong while preparing for trick or treat, when Steve couldn’t put place the name of a Kit Kat bar. An MRI revealed what doctors believed to be a slow-growing brain tumor. Surgery was set for the spring, but Steve’s health worsened over the winter. The next scan revealed a much larger, more dangerous tumor — glioblastoma. Doctors scheduled emergency surgery the day after daughter Katherine’s 14th birthday.
The surgery kicked off a tumultuous year for Steve and his family. His first medication was feckless against the cancer, and his brain tumor began growing again. Brain swelling crushed the optic nerves in his right eye, causing permanent damage. At one point, doctors warned him that he may have just weeks to live. Why is this happening? Steve wondered.
Adjustments to his treatment regimen helped stabilize Steve’s health. He found the energy and clarity to reflect on how he wanted to live the rest of his life.
“Cancer kind of wakes you up,” he said. “You look at what you were doing with your time before all this happened. What can you improve on? What can you do differently?”
He resolved to do everything he could to see Katherine graduate from, and son Jonathan start, high school.
“It turned me around,” he said. “You do have bad days, don’t get me wrong, but you want to keep living. You’re trying to reach out and do something and live life.”
Steve and Jennifer have always loved to travel, and after a few long trips to cancer centers, Steve decided he was up for recreational travel. One summer, the family set out on a series of trips to cover the 20 U.S. states Steve, a former sales manager, had not yet visited.
He accomplished the milestone during a trip through the Dakotas and the northern Mountain West. The Davises celebrated with a meal on a floating restaurant on Lake Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, the final state on Steve’s list.
His travels have only become more adventurous since then. In a one-month period during fall 2021, Steve and Jennifer went to a wedding in Mexico, spent a weekend visiting Denali National Park in Alaska, and celebrated their anniversary in Iceland. They are planning a trip with the kids to South Africa next summer.
“He’s the best patient in the world,” Jennifer said. “He has such a positive attitude and such great spirit. If he wants to do something, he’s not easily swayed.”
Before cancer, Steve was already an active parent, helping to coach Katherine’s softball teams, among other things. But unable to return to work full-time after his diagnosis, he discovered the joys and fulfillment of being a “house dad.”
Although no longer a coach, he could still attend most games, and often drove her to competitive club tournaments a few hours away on weekends and during the summer while Jennifer worked international flights. If a doctor’s appointment or illness kept him from a game, he’d watch the video stream or track the play-by-play on the GameChanger mobile app.
He’s paid close attention to the passing of seasons, and watched Katherine and the other little girls he’d once coached grow into self-assured young women on and off the field.
Katherine graduated from high school in May 2021, and Jonathan started high school a few months later. Steve now hopes to see Katherine graduate from the University of Georgia and watch Jonathan receive his high school diploma.
Steve says he’s learned to accept, and even embrace, how GBM transformed his life.
“I accept that death is on the horizon,” he said. “It could be a month or a year, but it could also be later,” he said. “So I just want to enjoy what I can, savor the time with my wife, and connect with my kids.”
The health status of patients featured reflects their condition at the time the story was written and photographs were taken and may have changed over time.