In 2004 Yaron Butterfield was first diagnosed with Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM) and in 2005 his tumor recurred. Despite the recurrence, Yaron has now been cancer free since 2006! Here is his story in his own words:
My name is Yaron Butterfield. I’m from North Vancouver, BC, Canada. I graduated from Simon Fraser University with a degree in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, a Minor in Cultural Anthropology, and a Certificate in Liberal Arts. In 2000, I started at BC Cancer’s Genome Sciences Centre (GSC) as a Cancer Genomics Researcher. I’m first author on 2 publications in scientific journals and co-author on 48 other refereed articles including 2 on brain cancer.
I was at the height of my career in April 2003, having played a key role in our successful effort to analyze and put together the SARS coronavirus genome. I had stayed up past 4am on my own in the lab on a Friday night working with and analyzing the data with the hope of completing assembly of the genome sequence. When the full sequence appeared on my screen, I yelled in excitement — but there was no one around to share my enthusiasm. The following day, further analysis to confirm the result was needed and by the end of the day we aimed to publish the complete sequence before the CDC in Atlanta. The news spread fast and put the GSC on the world-wide map. Life was good.
Ten months later, on February 23, 2004 my life changed forever. I collapsed in a grand mal seizure and was subsequently diagnosed with a very serious form of brain cancer — Grade 4 Astrocytoma, also called Glioblastoma Multiforme (GBM). Now I’d have to deal with the fact that I had a cancer with an average survival of 13-15 months (if treated). However, being somewhat drugged-up with medication, I do not think I fully grasped the seriousness of my situation. Or, I was in denial. Or, I felt there was a reason I got the cancer. Indeed, I feel this last thought played a role in accepting my situation and in my survival.
Surgery to remove the tumor was a risky procedure, given its deep location (in my head!) and so I went forward with only chemotherapy and radiation. I took a break from work getting the treatment, cheering my hockey team to our first ever championship win (tried to skate in the championship game), started to date someone and ran a full marathon in Iceland a year later.
However, while plans were on the way to return to work, I had a recurrence in late 2005 and as the original chemotherapy rarely works a second time with GBM (this cancer is very heterogeneous — and any cells initially resistant to chemotherapy have multiplied — the new tumor is genetically different than the one at diagnosis), I was placed on a clinical trial drug, which failed horribly. The bright side of things at the time was that I got married to the beautiful woman I had met the year before. But through the first 8 months of 2006, I had to take the original chemotherapy drug as a last measure and I hoped that it would work. It did. I’ve been clear of the cancer since September 2006.
I returned to work and continued researching various cancers. I also work hard in various capacities to contribute back to the brain cancer community, such as initiating the first art therapy program at the center for brain cancer patients, meeting newly diagnosed patients, and co-chairing the committee where we come up with initiatives to help brain cancer patients.
For 7 years I coordinated the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada’s Spring Sprint, a walk/run where I met, and got inspired by, other brain cancer patients. I did the Ride to Conquer Cancer, a 2-day, 280-ish km bike ride fundraising for cancer research. More recently I’ve been involved in a couple initiatives here in BC centered on patient involvement in healthcare. A very important and exciting initiative that hopefully will overhaul the health system for the benefit of all: Patients, caregivers, healthcare teams and researchers.
It has been a long time now since my life instantly changed, forever, that day in 2004. I now have a beautiful daughter which adds to my inspiration to continue to live and thrive. Many people over the years have asked me how and what did I do to survive — many hoping to hear about specific things that they could apply to their situation such as specific diets, foods, drugs, and supplements. My response has always been that we are all different and what works for one may not for another. That ultimately, we need to leverage our mind (which can be hard when the cancer is in the brain!) and soul to heal ourselves. We have tremendous power and strength to do just that. Not that medical treatments do not work; I don’t think I’d be here to write this had I not taken the chemotherapy and radiation. But there is increasingly strong evidence that positive thoughts can have a biological and biochemical effect on our body.
I do recommend Lissa Rankin’s books—much of what she has written resonates with me and I am sure will with you. I am in the process of writing my own memoir of my cancer experience. There are many interesting things I’ve been through and I hope you will be interested in the book when it’s published. When that time comes, I will post it here!
EDITOR’S NOTE: As of October 2020, Yaron continues to be cancer-free. Here is his update:
I have not experienced relapse of the diagnosis. My annual MRI last month was clear again thankfully. However, I did have a subdural hematoma – bleeding in the space between the skull and the brain – in March this year. It was a difficult 3 months with 2 one-week stays at the neurology clinic at the hospital. Because the brain didn’t absorb the blood, I finally had brain surgery in May. I have been healing ever since and feel great now! My neurooncologist agreed with me that this was most likely a long-term effect of radiation I had way back in 2004. This will be another chapter in my memoir.
If there’s anything I added in my additional healing, I have been exploring more and more meditation and yoga in addition to more writing activities (beyond just my memoir I am writing). Long walks in beautiful parts of the city or hike really realy calms the mind. I am a firm believer that stress can play a role in initiating cancer and reading about various ways to decrease stress. I do eat pretty healthy in general (and my 12 yr old daughter pushing me on this!) but constantly working on this.
I guess the additions to my story are the long term effects of radiation. The subdural hematoma and double vision for which I had surgery to address this last month. So I do remember being warned of long-term side effects before I started radiation but I recall feeling that I just want to live. My neuroncologist said that there will be more. I will take them as they come!!!
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