When his six-year-old son was given some seriously bad news that smashed his self-confidence, Josh Marshall took matters into his own hands. The story behind their matching scars is an emotional rollercoaster that will melt your heart and restore your faith in humanity.
Josh, who’s not yet 30, and his wife Bethany Shultz hail from Kansas. They live with their now-eight-year-old son Gabriel and their younger daughter Makinzley.
Until last year the Marshalls lived relatively normal lives, just like any other typical nuclear family. But Gabriel and his parents were about to receive some shockingly terrible news.
Indeed, in March 2015 Gabriel was diagnosed with anaplastic astrocytoma, a rare and malignant form of cancer. The news proved devastating for Josh and Bethany, as it would for any parent.
Anaplastic astrocytoma takes the form of a cancerous brain tumor. While a small number of cases are hereditary, the majority appear to manifest randomly.
Gabriel’s condition, then, is extremely rare. In fact, fewer than five people per million in the U.S. are diagnosed with anaplastic astrocytoma each year.
Naturally, after his diagnosis Gabriel underwent treatment to improve his situation. This involved major surgery to take out the bulk of the potentially fatal tumor.
Fortunately, Gabriel’s surgery proved largely successful; there was, however, one aesthetic side effect. The little boy, in addition to being left without any hair, now had a large scar on his head’s right-hand side.
This scar unsurprisingly had a huge effect on Gabriel’s self-confidence. His father told ABC News that the youngster was “very self-conscious… he felt like a monster.”
Of course, seeing his son suffer broke Josh’s heart. And so, like any good father would do, he decided to take action.
According to ABC News, in August 2015 Josh told his son, “You know what, I’ll get your scar tattooed. That way, if people want to stare at you, then they can stare at both of us.”
And that’s precisely what this super dad did. Gabriel’s reaction was exactly what his dad had wanted; the youngster loves the tattoo and reckons that it makes him and his dad resemble twins.
Then, in June 2016 Josh decided to show off their matching scars by entering the #BestBaldDad contest put on by the St. Baldrick Foundation – a kids’ cancer charity. The competition, which marks Father’s Day, is open to men who’ve shaved their heads for their cancer-suffering children, nieces, nephews or grandchildren.
Josh posted a photo of himself alongside Gabriel, their scars in full view, with the message, “Me and my son at this year’s St. Baldrick’s event in Wichita, Kansas. Got my son’s scar tattooed to help his self confidence.”
The votes quickly began stacking up until, on June 19, 2016, Josh was declared the winner. In fact, despite their being 55 entries overall, Gabriel’s dad had received more than 5,000 votes.
Allison Sutton, the social media manager at the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, stressed the unique nature of Josh’s entry to BuzzFeed News. “[It’s] the first time we’ve seen an entry where a dad went above and beyond shaving his head in solidarity with his child and got a tattoo to build his son’s self-confidence,” she said.
However, the Marshalls’ story didn’t end there. After being crowned #BestBaldDad Josh’s photo went viral, with hundreds of thousands of people showing their support. A Facebook group titled “PRAYERS FOR GABE MARSHALL,” for instance, now has over 2,000 members.
Josh told ABC News, “I never intended for it to be this big. It was just a friendly competition between fellow cancer dads and people showing support for their loved ones who have fought cancer.”
While Gabriel still has scans every three months, they’re purely precautionary as most of the tumor was successfully removed. And while a small proportion remains, on the whole the little boy is doing just fine.
It’s fair to say, then, that most fathers would do anything to help their children, but few would go as far as getting a scar tattooed on their head. Josh’s support for his son is absolutely heartwarming, and it’s no doubt given Gabriel the confidence boost of a lifetime. #BestBaldDad? How about just #BestDad?