Wish fish

Maine teen beats brain tumor, lands trophy kings

James’ day was Friday.


The 14-year-old James Day of Porter, Maine had the only line in the water at all of the Kenai River’s famous king salmon haunts — College Hole, Poacher’s Cove, Big Eddy and others.

Day’s hunk of cured salmon eggs and Spin-N-Glo was allowed in the Kenai River for good reason — Day, a client of the Make-A-Wish Foundation, spent the last seven months doing battle with a germinoma brain tumor.

But Day said he was never scared during his fight with the tumor. Thanks to friends and family he got it done and now his prognosis and future are bright and healthy.

Much like he whipped the rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, James also whipped not one, but two Kenai kings on Friday. And a jack. And five rainbow trout, he added.

“It was amazing,” Day said.

Day and his family — mother Valerie and father James — were guided by Mike Fenton of Fenton Brothers Guided Sportfishing after being granted a catch and release exemption from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. 

Fenton estimated the first king Day caught was 35 pounds and the second at 55 pounds.

“I think he was thrilled,” Fenton said. “The second one he got was about a 35-pounder and I think he would have been thrilled with that because it was a great fight. But that second one, it was a whole second class of fish and he couldn’t get his hands around the tail when I was helping him let it go.”

Last October, Day started experiencing strange symptoms and was first misdiagnosed with sinus infections and then again with severe dehydration.

After being diagnosed correctly, Day underwent a total of two brain surgeries, four rounds of chemotherapy-- — three days each every three weeks — and five weeks of radiation treatment in Boston.

The family was in “total shock” Valerie said. But Day, an avid hunter and fisherman, handled the news well, for the most part.

“We were actually planning to go moose hunting two days later with my nephew up in Northern Maine and he was fine about the tumor saying, ‘OK, what are we going to do? Let’s just take care of it,’” she said. “But, he cried about not going moose hunting.”

Day agreed.

“I was pretty fine with it most of the time,” he said. “My second round of chemo I had double vision and blurry vision and I was kind of getting fed up with that. I just wanted to leave and go home.”

During treatment, Day said he adopted a saying to help him get through the ordeal. Day’s father had the phrase tattooed on his chest on his son’s 14th birthday.

“Everything will be OK in the end, and if it’s not OK it’s not the end,” he said. “That’s what the secretary of the school who is also a friend, she said it to me after the first surgery.”

Other than being the only fisherman allowed to fish for king salmon Friday, strangers would likely be unable to guess at Day’s former condition.

“The prognosis is excellent, the tumor is gone and there is a 98 to 96 percent cure rate but there is a possibility of anything so we have to have MRIs every three months,” Valerie said.

Valerie said a Portland, Maine social worker first mentioned the Make-A-Wish foundation to the family, but she was hesitant.

“Me being the mom I was like, ‘No, no, no,’” she said. “I thought Make-A-Wish used to be for terminally ill children and they would tell you that. Now it is if the child in your life has been threatened in any way they do that.”

Valerie said Day was told to “dream big” in coming up with his wish. Day decided on a king salmon hunt inspired by an aunt’s king salmon mount and others who had fished the river.

Fenton said he has fished Make-A-Wish clients before and said he enjoyed guiding Day.

“It’s pretty priceless,” he said. “It puts things in perspective — life in perspective — and I really can’t put a price on just what we get out of it. Very cool stuff.”

Day said the last year has taught him an important lesson.

“Life isn’t always easy,” he said. “Appreciate what you get.”

Brian Smith can be reached at brian.smith@peninsulaclarion.com.