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Bryce Yelverton thanks his dad for many things - his love of Star Wars, baseball, family and church among them. But his greatest gift was when he showed him that cancer can be beaten.
It was a life-changing message that the Clinton, Miss., math teacher needed when he was diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma stage 2B, the same disease and stage his father had fought 15 years earlier.
Bryce remembers it being a dark time for the family when his dad was diagnosed, but he was only in 8th grade and didn’t fully comprehend what was happening. Years later, he saw an ad at a state fair that said one in five people will get cancer in their lifetime. With only six people in his family, he thought he was safe.
Yet, when Bryce first heard his own diagnosis earlier this year, he wasn’t particularly surprised, and he also wasn’t afraid. While other people might worry about dying because they didn’t know anything different, he did.
The two men had similar treatments - six months of chemotherapy and a month of radiation. But Bryce got the benefit of years of medical advances and his regimen proved much more tolerable. Newer medications kept the nausea down and a nutritionist advised him about building back tissue damaged by radiation.
Knowing his dad was behind him made all the difference.
"Having someone who experienced the same ordeal, even in a different way, gave me the confidence to say 'I can do this,'” Bryce said.
From Joel's perspective, it turned out to be even harder to watch his son go through treatment. This time he had no control. All he could do was pray and offer support.
"It's one thing facing cancer when you're going through it but it’s a whole different thing when it's your child,” he said. "Knowing what they’re facing and going through, it hurts."
Now that they’re both in remission, they've decided it's time to pay it forward. They’ve recruited the rest of their family and some friends and signed up to run a half-marathon with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's (LLS) Team in Training program. Joel remembered how a friend ran a marathon in his honor and he wanted to do the same for his son. The "Yelveteers" will be running in the Walt Disney World event in January because of Bryce's love for all things Disney.
Both Bryce and Joel have also signed on to be LLS field advocates, sharing their stories with state and federal legislators to raise awareness of public policy issues. Bryce recently spoke at a LLS advocacy dinner and Joel shared his story at an advocate meeting with Mississippi Speaker of the House Philip Gunn.
Looking back, Bryce said that he wouldn't wish his experience on anybody but he's learned a lot.
"I wouldn’t take back having it,” he said. "It was something that really grew me as an individual who appreciates life and is sympathetic to others."
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