Saved by “Star Wars Stuff”
Posted on August 21, 2012, 5:09 PM
by Col. John Yaryan
Retirement was supposed to be my chance to finally spend all the time I wanted with my children and grandchildren. But like it does for many people, cancer did its best to throw that chance out the window.
Decades back, I received a master’s degree from Oklahoma University in Social Work and from the Army War College in Political Science. I then attended Air Force pilot training and went on to a 30-year career serving my country. I had some exciting times flying just about every type of aircraft in four foreign countries and on eight stateside assignments. Flying and family were my life. Unfortunately, Vietnam took me away from the family part of that equation for a time. I continued my service after the military, this time as a high school social studies teacher in Las Vegas for fifteen years. Eight years ago I retired, and my wife Jeri and I looked forward to finally settling down to a “normal” life with our children and their children.
That didn’t last long. Approximately two years ago, I underwent a prostate biopsy following a very high PSA test result during a regular screening, but the biopsy results were negative. In May of 2011, my internist did another PSA test, which was extremely high—having jumped from the mid 50s to the mid 70s ng/ml. I was surrounded with family for the results of the second biopsy. This time, the biopsy revealed cancer at all 12 sites. Perhaps because of my military background, perhaps because I was trying to stay strong in front of my family, when the doctor announced my status, I remained composed. I didn’t realize the impact his words had until I looked around the room. Everyone was in tears. That was rough. Thankfully, my family has been very supportive during this very difficult time.
I’m equally thankful I was admitted to The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center – a Stand Up To Cancer Dream Team Institution – under the care of Dr. Ana Aparicio. Dr. Aparicio’s further diagnosis indicated that the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes as well as the possibility of my bones. My cancer team responded with all due speed. I was immediately started on Lupron, a hormone commonly used in the treatment of prostate cancer, and a clinical trial of ipilimumab, which has been quite successful in treating melanoma but is still being tested on prostate patients. I was comfortable with the clinical trial, feeling that it was a way both to potentially treat my own cancer, as well as help future patients.
Within several months, my PSA level, which started in the mid 70 ng/ml, was down to almost zero. As the tumors began to reduce in size, I talked with my cancer team about surgery options and opted for robotic surgery, under the leadership of Dr. John Davis, because of the quicker recovery time. The da Vinci robot, a minimally invasive surgical treatment, was a marvel, performing only five small incisions, which I liked to call “Star Wars stuff”! Lymph nodes from my aorta to prostate were removed, followed by my prostate itself. The surgery went well, and I was pretty much back to normal within two weeks.
I’m happy to say my cancer has now become a chronic disease, and is well under control with continued Lupron injections at 90-day intervals. I believe Lupron and the ipilimumab trial were critical in getting me ready for surgery. To my MD Anderson Team – a job well done!
Having been a senior military officer, one has to analyze everything in detail. So to those who may be reading this: attack this disease with all you have. Your faith is important. If you have the opportunity to participate in a clinical trial, take it! And the most important thing? Listen to the experts. You are not in this thing alone!!!
I Stand Up for my grands – you might call them “grandchildren” – so that someday they’ll never even have to use this Star Wars stuff, as impressive as it may be. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll get back to my plans before cancer tried to interrupt them, and spend time with my grands.
A former Air Force colonel, John Yaryan now lives in the Houston area near his youngest child. He and his wife Jeri have three grown children and nine grandchildren. Now that his cancer is now under control, John and his wife Jeri are able to live their dream of spending more time with their family. Now, if only he could spend some more time with the cruise crowd!
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