Student battles cancer with community and family support

John Verly was diagnosed with lymphoma almost six months ago and recently began chemotherapy.

Student battles cancer with community and family support

Lolla Mohammed Nur

Twenty-year-old John Verly was diagnosed with one of the rarest forms of cancer almost six months ago. A biopsy, two sessions of intense chemotherapy and 16 rounds of radiation later, Verly is still fighting hard to beat his tumor. âÄúThis is the perfect time to have cancer,âÄù Verly said. âÄúIâÄôd rather get it now than when I have responsibilities later down the road. ItâÄôs just one year I have to sacrifice to live well for the rest of my life.âÄù The agriculture education major and member of Farmhouse Fraternity would have been a junior at the University of Minnesota this semester. But Verly knew his education would have to wait when he discovered he was one of only 24 people worldwide, age 20 or younger, to be diagnosed with primary central nervous system lymphoma (PCNSL). About two months ago, after Verly was diagnosed, he began intense chemotherapy, which he said didnâÄôt stop his tumorâÄôs growth. So his doctors tried a different type of chemotherapy. This time, VerlyâÄôs mother noticed frequent memory lapses in her son, he said. âÄúI forgot where I put my radio down or that my lunchbox was on the tractor,âÄù Verly said. âÄúSo we did the MRI three weeks earlier than we would have âĦ If my mom didnâÄôt catch that, it wouldâÄôve been catastrophic.âÄù An MRI scan showed the tumor had grown rapidly and was already five times larger. âÄúThey donâÄôt know why, but itâÄôs just an aggressive type of cancer. They were shocked,âÄù Verly said. About four weeks ago, Verly began daily radiation treatment at Mayo Clinic in Rochester. He drives from Farmhouse Fraternity with his parents to the 25-minute sessions every day. âÄúHeâÄôs now getting better about remembering things, but heâÄôs losing a lot of energy with each radiation,âÄù said VerlyâÄôs best friend and brother-in-law, agriculture education junior Brad Lanoue. VerlyâÄôs motor skills, which were damaged after a biopsy on his brain last summer, have also been improving âÄî he can now walk without a cane. He still has nine rounds of radiation left; his last session will be on Christmas Eve. So far, VerlyâÄôs major side effects have been weight gain and energy loss. He said his biggest fear is that six months to three years from now he may experience side effects similar to dementia. Stem cell transplant VerlyâÄôs unique case is one of several being presented and discussed by doctors at an international conference in New Orleans. When the chemotherapy failed, Verly said his doctors began to doubt the effectiveness of a stem cell transplant. But the doctors told his family Monday that a transplant in January will be the best next step. âÄúItâÄôs because IâÄôm young; they want to give me the best chance possible to beat this,âÄù he said. After an MRI scan to determine the success of radiation treatment, VerlyâÄôs bone marrow will be harvested within the next two weeks. He knows it will be painful, but he tries to be optimistic. âÄúI canâÄôt really control this. I have to deal with it,âÄù he said. âÄúItâÄôs a lot harder to comprehend when youâÄôre not in my shoes, but when you have to deal with it, you canâÄôt really change it.âÄù Before the transplant, Verly will undergo a week of tests to make sure his body is healthy. After six days of intensive chemotherapy, Verly will begin a two-week transplant process and recovery. The whole process will take four weeks. Verly said the doctors are confident but donâÄôt really know his odds of survival because his case is so rare. âÄúBut they say theyâÄôre confident that after this I could have a normal life,âÄù he said. Support from family, friends Applied economics senior and Farmhouse president Nathan Janssen said members of the house have been helping Verly cope. âÄúWeâÄôve talked about the feelings of hopelessness and what we can do to be there for him, especially since itâÄôs a unique situation,âÄù he said. Last Monday, when Verly noticed his hair was falling out, his fraternity brothers, father and other relatives all shaved their heads in solidarity. Even the fraternityâÄôs 12 new members who didnâÄôt know Verly agreed to participate. âÄúJohn was in disbelief because he didnâÄôt even know them,âÄù Lanoue said. âÄúBut when it comes down to it, youâÄôre still a brother.âÄù Lanoue said VerlyâÄôs disease has pulled the St. Paul campus community together. Even FarmhouseâÄôs rival, Alpha Gamma Rho, has given support. âÄúWeâÄôve broken down those walls âĦ Everyone wants to be there even if they donâÄôt know him,âÄù Lanoue said. VerlyâÄôs family organized a weeklong prayer vigil, during which a friend or relative is praying for Verly at all times, 24 hours a day. âÄúWeâÄôre just being there as normal friends and brothers whenever heâÄôs around,âÄù Janssen said. âÄúI know part of the reason he likes being with us is feeling like a normal person again. We donâÄôt treat him any differently.âÄù