Life had been sailing along quite comfortably for the Yost family, when the day came that our lives were turned upside down. Gary complained of shoulder pain after soccer practice. Gary is not a complainer, so we found this somewhat unsettling. I took him to the pediatrician expecting to hear news of a pulled muscle. Following an X-ray to rule out a cracked rib, the doctor told us that Gary had a mass in his chest cavity and he wanted us to head up to Seattle Children’s immediately. We got in the car and headed north from his office. It was 6:30pm on June 25th of 2007. The tests, scans and blood draws began. A mere 18 hours after our pediatrician appointment for what was supposed to be a pulled muscle, we were told that Gary had cancer – Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form bone cancer. The scans showed a tumor in Gary’s chest cavity the size of a softball. It was wrapped around at least three of his ribs and was pressing on his lung. Now only 24 hours after leaving the pediatrician’s office, Gary was admitted to the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance Unit at Seattle Children’s.
Walking through those big doors marked “SCCA” was one of the scariest moments of our lives. After receiving a cancer diagnosis, our next hurdle was Gary’s bone marrow aspiration. We were blessed by the news that the cancer had not invaded his bone marrow. We had caught it early. The scans to look for signs of tumors in his lungs were next. Again we were blessed with the news that the cancer had not moved to his lungs, dodging very damaging lung radiation.
14 rounds of chemo therapy followed each of which required either a 3 or 5 night admission to the hospital and several blood transfusions. In October of 2007, Gary had surgery to remove the tumor. He had three ribs removed and a titanium rib, some wires and Gortex put in their place. Let me share a few quick stats to help you understand what our family survived during treatment:
- 108 Trips to Seattle Children’s -70 miles round trip from our home in Tacoma
- 7560 Miles driven
- 56 Outpatient Blood Draws (we have no idea how many we had inpatient)
- 2 PET Scans
- 8 Bone Scans
- 8 CT Scans
- 28 X-Rays
- 4 Echo-Cardio-Grams
- 52 Nights in the Hospital (there were 250 nights between diagnosis and last chemotherapy treatment – 21% of the nights were spent at the hospital )
- 6 Trips to the Emergency Room
- 28 Feeding Tubes placed (that’s the white noodle you often see hanging out of the nose of many pediatric cancer patients)
- 1 Night in the PICU
- 3 Rounds of Heavy-Duty Antibiotics
- 14 Packed Red Blood Cell Transfusions
Thankfully Gary’s chemotherapy ended on March 1st of 2008 – the four of us celebrated with sparkling cider and a good hard cry. His end of treatment scans showed no signs of cancer. Five years later, we are blessed and thankful to report that Gary has “graduated” from the care of the Oncology Department to the care of the Survivorship Department. Life is getting back to “normal” – well, as “normal” as life can be after an experience like this.
Had it not been for that X-ray, who knows what Gary’s outcome would have been? What we do know is that left undiscovered this tumor would have taken over his bone marrow and infiltrated his lungs and the odds that we would be standing here today with our son significantly reduced.
Our experiences may seem pretty overwhelming, even insurmountable to some, but we are surviving and we are so very thankful for the outcome we are enjoying. While no one would ever ask to have our experiences, our family has discovered that we have gained some major gifts as a result of this journey. We don’t take a moment for granted, we love each other on a level I believe few have the pleasure of achieving.