When Jacob’s Heart moved into Samuel’s hometown, he was pleased to see the bright blue building covered in colorful handprints, and the memories of being one of Jacob’s Heart kids intensified. Samuel drove by many times throughout the years, always smiling as he passed by; but, it wasn’t until years later that he came in the door. Why did it take Samuel Boyd Yoro so long to come to a place he refers to as “a good atmosphere and a positive environment with hopeful people?”
Today the 26 year old is proud to be able to say he can give back to Jacob’s Heart, something he has wanted to do for the past 10 years. “I wanted to give back to Jacob’s Heart and I wasn’t ready to come in until I could do that.” And, in walked a handsome young man with fine American Indian features. He has a long braid down his back, a braid that symbolizes a battle fought against cancer and the likelihood that cancer treatments would never allow his hair to grow again.
It all began when Samuel was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 14. A very bright and athletic young man, Samuel unexpectedly slowed down. With no explanation, his behavior changed drastically from a highly energetic teen to one being tired and exhausted throughout the day. Samuel speaks of his mother with great admiration for it was through her continued persistence that doctors finally tested him for serious illnesses. Being told that he had a sinus infection and an ear infection didn’t satisfy his mother. She took him from doctor to doctor who thought she was a neurotic, worried mother until one doctor noticed the lump growing on his neck. “Eventually she got results,” says Samuel, “and we were referred to an oncology specialist and I was diagnosed with nasal pharyngeal carcinoma.” By then the lump had grown to the size of his fist, and they found that the cancer had metastasized.
At that moment something special about Samuel became apparent. He wasn’t any ordinary teen. Not to the surprise of his parents or those who knew him well, he took on the experience of cancer as one of the biggest challenges in his life, a challenge he was going to overcome with success. Samuel has always felt positive and blessed about his life. Having grown up in a tough neighborhood, Samuel knew that life had its obstacles. “Everyone was so worried about me and I would just smile at them because I was never worried.” Initially, everyone felt he was in a state of denial, but Samuel can tell you today that he knew his fate. He had always believed that when it was his time, it was his time – something he learned from an early age. But, he says, “I also believed that choices affected that time. I knew I would overcome it and it was just another obstacle in my life. Things happen for a reason.” Even when Samuel was told that he had Stage 4 cancer, the worst stage possible, he responded with incredible strength. Samuel attributes his strong belief in the power of goodness to his ability to be remain strong and focused.
The tumor was inoperable. It centered between his nasal cavity and his brain. Samuel educated himself about his cancer and learned as much as he could about his situation. He told his doctor that he wanted to know about everything that was ahead of him. The doctor knew that he could handle it and treated the 14 year old like any adult. He remarked about the information he was given by saying “It was something improving my life. I didn’t feel like I was dying and life was over. Anything I get into, I try to do my best and remain calm…and do well. I took it step by step.” And “step by step” meant intensive chemotherapy and radiation in the months to come. The prognosis wasn’t good until the doctor found a cancer trial that had its possibilities for Samuel’s survival. Multiple chemicals were used for his chemotherapy, one of the harshest therapies available. Samuel received chemo in two week cycles. Between chemo sessions, he felt better; and not surprisingly, Samuel spent those weeks surfing and fishing. He decided that it was all mind over matter and he was going to live a full life even during his treatments. He remembers many good times with his father during those months.
Everyone was amazed that the treatments went exceptionally well and the tumor shrunk. Samuel was now able to receive radiation. He was one of the first to receive CyberKnife which delivers precise, highly focused radiation to tumors in the brain. The radiation is administered through a robot’s arm. While some might say that it was the intensive chemotherapy and the CyberKnife that pulled him through, his doctor, family and friends who knew him before cancer, knew that it was way more than that. Samuel won the battle.
Ten years later, Samuel acknowledges the Make a Wish Foundation and Jacob’s Heart for their part in his recovery. Make a Wish was the first organization that he was in contact with and he was thankful for their involvement. Jacob’s Heart came into his life when the family first received groceries. He remembers that family finances were stretched because of the medical expenses and Jacob’s Heart was there to help them through a tough time. But, more importantly, Samuel remembers that he received emotional support from the organization. He says, “Jacob’s Heart would come personally to my house. It made me feel special. Jacob’s Heart really helped me at that time. Jacob’s Heart gave hope to children and families. It provided me a good atmosphere, a positive environment and a lot of hopeful people. I felt honored to be accepted by them.”
There was one experience he talks about that he was “super grateful for” which was organized by Jacob’s Heart staff and Richard Novak, owner of NHS, Inc. in Santa Cruz. It was a surprise gift of a top of the line snowboard from Richard and snowshoes from Jacob’s Heart. As an athletic young man he truly believes that it helped strengthen him physically and it gave him an opportunity to do something he would never had been able to afford. “It brought a new chapter into my life, the snowboarding. I love doing things out in nature and it’s a very powerful thing,” he says. To this day, he still has the snowboard in mint condition and feels that he is blessed. He continues, “I’m always thankful that you (Jacob’s Heart) came into my life – financially, the support, and the surprise I remember so well.”
For someone who wasn’t expected to survive, at least statistically, Samuel pursued his belief in the power of goodness. He believes that the reason he hasn’t relapsed is because of his ability to adjust to stress. “Stress kills,” he says, “and I battle it, but I battle it by not avoiding it. I use forces of goodness to battle stress.” “Forces of goodness,” something very important to Samuel, brings us back to the day he walked in the door. The desire to give back to Jacob’s Heart was now an option. Samuel had been working with his brother-in-law, Pete Dunn, who restores 1967, 1968 and 1969 Camaros. They made an arrangement to offer Jacob’s Heart a 1969 Camaro worth $80,000 to be used for a fundraiser. Samuel is so appreciative of Pete’s kind heart and willingness to help. The Camaro was something he could give to Jacob’s Heart and even more important during these difficult economic times.
He reminisces further about Jacobs Heart, “I thought, how can such a small organization provide so much. But it was the people behind it who had the mindset and made things happen. I don’t think it was the finances, it was the people. They made it happen! I wanted to give back to you since you’ve done so much. I’ve always known that I have the ability inside of me to do whatever I think of.”
And, now Samuel along with his brother-in-law have partnered with Jacob’s Heart, ten years after his diagnosis. “It all happens for a reason, for the right reasons and I wouldn’t change anything” says Samuel.