Eugene and Karen have three beautiful children: Kevin, and twins Isaac and Hannah. When Kevin was 11, he started having intense pain and swelling in his leg, which was eventually diagnosed as osteosarcoma. After having chemotherapy, surgery on his leg, and spending almost a year in a wheel chair, Kevin was declared cancer-free. But just four months later, Karen was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer. Yet through it all, the Yang family has kept an incredible perspective of hope. Fotocrew member Laura Jurgens shares the Yang’s story and her fun portrait session with the family.
Photography and story by Fotocrew member Laura Jurgens
I have known Karen, Eugene and their kids – Kevin and twins -Isaac and Hannah – for many years. While our children have taken classes and participated in sports together, I have loved to watch the Yang family in action. They love to play, and they really do enjoy each other’s company. I have also witnessed the beauty of their love and trust in God growing as they have tackled cancer on two fronts over the past two years.
Kevin was just 11 years old when his leg began to cause him pain. At first they thought it was just growing pains. After he successfully tested for his second degree black belt, his leg really began to hurt. They thought that it was just because the test was so grueling (900 jumping jacks, 150 pushups, 148 sit-ups, 100 squats, 655 kicks, 300 punches, and a 1.8 mile run, among other requirements). His leg began swelling, so they iced it and rested it. He felt well enough to play baseball, but since he wasn’t running very well, his coach had him play catcher. The swelling continued to be a problem. After consulting the family chiropractor, they determined something wasn’t right. The swelling was localized above his knee. His pediatrician conducted blood tests that ruled out infection and an x-ray that showed a shadow. At the University of Chicago, a CT scan and MRI revealed a hairline fracture and osteosarcoma (bone cancer).
Treatment for Kevin consisted of casting the fracture, replacing part of the femur with a titanium rod, replacing a piece of his tibia, putting in an artificial knee, and chemo treatments. This athletic boy, with a strong love of sports, was going to have to undergo six weeks in a hip to toe cast, and 10 months in a wheel chair and crutches, not bearing any weight on that leg. During this recovery time, he fell while in his wheel chair and broke his ankle, playing a game at church. This gave him an additional 6 weeks in a knee to ankle cast. Thankfully, he was declared clear of cancer January of 2014.
In April of 2014, just after Kevin received the all clear from his doctors, Karen discovered that she had had stage 4 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma (breast cancer).
Karen describes her the experience:
“When Kevin was first diagnosed, it was a bit surreal. It was totally unexpected and things moved so quickly that I had little time to stop and think. It was somewhat like when the twins were born in that I did what needed to be done and kept moving. We have a wonderful church, friends, family who came around us and supported us every step of the way. Knowing what I do now, I probably would have/should have been more upset, but the Lord shielded me from information – like how high the doses of chemo were that Kevin received and what the surgery would be. Throughout everything with Kevin I knew that God had a plan and we just needed to trust.
Once Kevin was on the mend, I started to think ahead and start planning for all the things “I” wanted to do. Shortly thereafter, I was diagnosed and all plans went out the window. I honestly believe that the Spirit hid my cancer/lump from me until Kevin was well. The worst part of the journey was toward the end of chemo when I was completely spent. I couldn’t care for myself, much less my family. I began to have thoughts and make plans about how Eugene would carry on once I was gone. I wasn’t worried for myself, I knew I’d be with the Lord, but worried about Eugene and the kids.
In September when my PET scan was clear, once again I started to make plans about how to get back to “normal”. Of course, in January of this year, I found that the cancer was not completely gone and I had to have surgery to remove a residual lump. I am now going through radiation treatment. I guess I/we just take it one day/one week at a time.
The Lord is walking with us and providing what we need just in time. Never late, rarely early, just on time.”
For Eugene, as father and husband, the family fight with cancer has weighed heavily on his shoulders and his heart.
Eugene shared very candidly about his own struggles.
“When I found out that Kevin had cancer, it was literally a sucker punch to the gut. Perhaps it’s my Chinese heritage, but here is my No. 1 son, who I’ve been pouring in God, Jesus, the way of life, sports, Notre Dame – though you really don’t want to admit it, that first son is special. His life suddenly hit a brick wall. The imagery that came to mind was a jar of marbles: the jar represented Kevin, each marble representing a potential day in his life – now spilled and scattered on the ground, and I couldn’t figure out how to get the marbles back in the jar. I had a soul-cracking, heart-rending cry that evening, as I had an expletive-laced theological tirade with God.
But, He is faithful! In this darkest spot, where else do you turn? His is the Eternal Faithfulness, and I needed to look at myself and say, “Do I trust you, Lord?” And then when Karen was diagnosed, I was like, “What?! You don’t think I got the message the first time around?!” I felt like Job, where all that I care about was being stripped from me. One thing I got was that God wanted me to be humbled and broken, admitting my 100% need to lean into Him, but also that my family and I are a testimony to His awesome love for us frail, human, sinful beings. Despite all the things we do to steer away from Him, He is ALWAYS there. He wanted us, and still wants us, to bring that light into this world. All the “trite” Christian-ese phrases we toss about…are true!
So, it made me think…what about MY jar? What am I doing with all my marbles? If I imagine a marble to be a day in my life – and I remove one each day – what did I do with those marbles that were removed? What did I do with today’s marble? What am I going to do with the marbles that remain? I have drawn my line in the sand (Joshua 24:15) and Jesus has given me purpose (Matthew 28:18-20)!”
In August of 2014, “Make-a-Wish” granted Kevin and the whole family, a meeting with Joe Montana in San Francisco.
Kevin was more than excited about sharing his experience.
“The experience surpassed my highest expectations. We first met Mr. Montana at a restaurant. While there, we talked about University of Notre Dame football, NFL football, Fantasy Football, etc. When he asked us who our favorite NFL teams were, I said the Patriots, Hannah said the Bears, and Isaac said the Packers. My brother and I have an ongoing feud on whether the Patriots or Packers are the better team. When Mr. Montana said that the Patriots were better, I lit up. In my head, I thought, “Told you so, Isaac!” [Eugene: I was a student at Notre Dame at the same time Joe was there; of course, we didn’t know each other from boo, as I was in engineering, planning on getting a real job!]
After eating at the restaurant, we walked over to a park where Mr. Montana and I played catch. We tossed the ol’ pigskin around for a while before my arm got tired. Mr. Montana gave me some good tips on how to throw better. After that, he signed two jerseys, a football, and a plaque holding three Montana football cards. Overall, it was an amazing experience.”
Because Kevin is still growing… a lot (three inches while doing chemo-which is not supposed to happen), he will have regular surgeries to extend his leg as he grows, potentially for the next eight years. Recovery consists of about three to four weeks on crutches each time.
Kevin shared with me about his faith through this experience.
“Over the last couple years, I have truly recognized the power of God and of prayer. I would pray before going into the hospital and coming out. Another thing I did was listen to as much Christian music as possible. I trust God a lot more than I used to, say two or three years ago.”
Learning to love God and trusting Him is something to be practiced in the every day, so that when life throws a curve ball, we can be ready. This family has struggled through a lot of uncertainly and pain, but even before this adversity, the love that they have had for others, each other, and most importantly for their God, has been undeniable. I have seen and experienced an inexplicable peace that comes through resting (trusting) in God while waiting and suffering. The Yang’s have shown me that I can trust and know… that God is always good. Practiced Love and trust in God has given the Yang family hope. Love gives hope a purpose.
You can read more about Kevin and Karen’s journeys on Caring Bridge:
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