After eight-year-old Gabriel Marshall underwent surgery to remove a tumor in his brain, the large scar left in its place “made him feel like a monster,” Gabriel’s dad, Josh, tells PEOPLE.
“He was very embarrassed about the scar – he wouldn’t even leave the house without something covering his head.”
“He said that he felt like everybody was staring at him and it made him feel like a monster, which broke my heart because to me he’s the most beautiful thing,” says Josh, 28.
Josh wanted to make his son feel better about the procedure, especially once Gabriel’s tumor – an anaplastic astrocytoma that had metastasized to his spine – was showing no signs of regrowth. So Josh decided to get a tattoo to match Gabriel’s scar.
“I asked him if it would be okay if I went and got his scar tattooed on my head if that would make him feel better, and he agreed that yes it would,” Josh says. “[I wanted] to take away some of the stares or attention from him.”
“He was very excited when I came home and showed him that I’d gotten it done. He said, ‘Wow that looks so realistic.’ ”
With his dad by his side, Gabriel learned to appreciate his scar.
“He’s now very proud of his scar because he knows that that it means that he was tougher than [the tumor] that tried to hurt him,” Josh says. “He calls it his battle scar.”
It’s been 15 months since Gabriel’s tumor was removed but doctors are monitoring him closely before officially saying he’s in remission.
“There is still some tumor in there, but his last sets of scans have shown that there is no new tumor growth,” Josh says. “The tumors are stable, so right now he’s just on watch with MRIs every 6 to 12 weeks.”
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Josh and Gabriel ran away with the competition, easily winning the top prize.
“It felt awesome to win the contest,” Josh says. “I never thought that the photo would become so popular and be shared by so many people.”
The original photo is up to 25,000 likes and over 8,300 shares.
“I was kind of shocked when it hit 500 likes, and then the next thing I know it’s over 5000 likes and then a day or two later I’m all over the internet.”