On May 28, Johnny faints and gets worse. Gunther finds out the tumor is undergoing glioblastomatous transformation, a far worse condition that carries the possibilities of blindness, paralysis, and, as Gunther found before, the inevitability of death.


When Johnny receives the shocking news of his tumor, he reacts with his characteristic blend of childlike innocence and adult maturity. He is polite to all who care for him, yet he also manipulates the doctors out of information about his illness from which they try to shield him. He is curious about his illness but is often unaware of the purpose of simple procedures he undergoes; perhaps his abstract intellectual desire to learn about the tumor is a manner of detaching himself from the problem, as if he were not the one whose brain was in jeopardy. Above all, he has the bravery of a child who knows little and thus fears little, but he also has the bravery of an adult who knows more than he leads on and accepts it with resolve.

Gunther observes that Johnny's resolve, his will to live, is his greatest asset. His correspondences, with everyone from Einstein to classmates, demonstrate his commitment to living life without holding back. His decision to learn about his illness, and his maintenance of human relationships, is the only way he can overcome a feeling of helplessness—both because the doctors do not tell him everything, a failure of communication, and because they do not know everything, a failure of science. Still, his first open sign of fear comes when he receives his first x-ray, which prompts him to declare to Frances (which will be repeated later) "I have so much to do! And there's so little time!" Underneath all his bravery, Johnny seems aware that he will die, and this acknowledgment is part of what makes his bravery both incredible and possible—he must accept his fate and do with his life what he can. His "Unbeliever's Prayer" is another offshoot of this acceptance, indicating an understanding that there are some mysteries in the universe that science cannot explain and seeking the answer in the spiritual realm.