My name is Kevin Yndestad and I am 20 years old. The word “cancer” has impacted my life for many years as my cousin, also 20, was diagnosed at age five, and is a three time survivor. We are very close, and we celebrated together every time he reached a cancer-free milestone.
I have always been one to reach out and volunteer, so when I was a freshman in college, I took the opportunity to spend my spring break teaching kids with cancer how to ski and snowboard with the Shining Stars Foundation in Aspen, Colorado.
You see, I have always had a love of the outdoors and I am a certified ski instructor and ski patrol, as well as a ski racer, so I decided to share my love of the snow! At the time, I had no idea that spending a week with 60 cancer patients was preparing me for the future…
Well, the very next winter, last January, I woke up one morning and was unable to feel the right side of my body. My fraternity brothers at Bradley University , where I was a student, took me to the local ER, and an hour later, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor-high grade Glioma. I ended up returning home to the Chicago area for a biopsy, fluid by-pass surgery, port surgery, and a second brain surgery. The doctors prescribed the new Proton radiation therapy as well as chemotherapy. By this time, I had already learned how to walk again as the brain surgery left me barely able to walk or use my right arm. Although I had watched my cousin battle back three times, I really had no idea how difficult it is to get up and tackle each day!
In July, just when things seemed to be moving forward, the chemo drug, Avastin, caused my blood to clot improperly. I stopped breathing at home. My mom and sister had to give me CPR one afternoon, and after an ambulance ride, I had to have emergency open heart surgery twice in three days to remove a saddle-back embolism that built up over my heart and both lungs. I was hospitalized for two weeks in intensive care. Again, back to physical therapy and occupational therapy in hopes to learn to walk and use my arm again. I have been confined to a wheelchair since the open heart surgery, but I spend every day working toward a full recovery so I can get back to school and being “normal” again.
It has been a daily struggle to regain the strength to walk, build muscle strength and function. Since last summer, I have had back fractures from the long term use of steroids that control the brain swelling, and my vision continues to be an issue. It seems a never ending battle to keep the white and red blood cells regulated so that I can get out of the house, but I celebrate each finished chemo cycle! Thank goodness I can still see my cell phone so that I can communicate with friends! I recently discovered water therapy which seems to be helping quite a bit!
This March, I am excited that I will be returning to Aspen as a motivational speaker with the Shining Stars Foundation. Just as Nicki battled her brain tumor, my outlook remains positive, and my fight against this disease continues! While cancer has taken away a year of my life, I am determined to get back on my feet and return to college in the fall! I would use any scholarship, large or small, to help with my college tuition. Thank you so much for letting me share my story with you!