He Traveled More Than 10,000 Miles For Treatment

Eason Yang was diagnosed with testicular cancer and traveled from Beijing, China to seek care from IU Health’s Dr. Lawrence Einhorn.

There’s a gold Mylar balloon banner announcing the occasion: “Happy Birthday.” In front of it stands a smiling Eason Yang, his wife of six years, Chloe Zhang beside him, holding their two-year-old daughter Piaopiao.

What isn’t known about the picture is that Yang was over-the-moon to be part of Piaopiao’s birthday. Her name is the Mandarin word for “beautiful.” And for Yang, that beauty is beyond his imagination. Every day is a blessing.

She was born January 7 – a day after Yang ‘s surgery for testicular cancer. He missed the birth. It’s painful for him to talk about. It’s difficult for him to grasp his life before his diagnosis and focus on life now.

A graphic artist and former marketing designer for Uber in Beijing, China this father traveled to Indiana twice seeking treatment for his diagnosis. His parents Shiqiang and Iaoqin Yang joined him during his recent month-long stay. His wife and daughter will meet him in California where he will remain indefinitely.  The distance – a little more than 2,000 miles from Indiana – is closer than his home in Beijing, some 10,000 miles away.

“I told Dr. Einhorn, ‘I want to be close to you. Psychologically it makes me feel safe,’” said Yang, who learned of Dr. Lawrence Einhorn by researching doctors throughout the world. Dr. Einhorn is known for successful treatment of testicular cancer – germ cell tumors – using a mix of high does chemotherapies and peripheral stem cell transplant.

It was the last day of 2016 when Yang was diagnosed.

“I felt something was wrong. One of my testicles was hard as a rock. I went to the hospital the next day. I did a urology work up first. They checked my testis and got an 80 percent diagnosis. At first I couldn’t believe it so I went to three of four other hospitals,” said Yang. Testicular cancer is rare, but one of the most common cancers in American males between the ages of 15 and 35. Symptoms include a lump or enlargement in either testicle; a feeling of heaviness in the scrotum; a dull ache in the abdomen or groin; and sometimes back pain.

After surgery, Yang was told his tumor markers were high so he went through six rounds of chemotherapy. Things seemed to be back to normal. Then three months later, he had a re-occurrence.

“My whole world collapsed and I was getting mixed messages from my doctors. I lacked confidence. Even in the hospital that is known for treating cancer patients, it’s sometimes very chaotic – like going to Wal-Mart on Black Friday. It just didn’t feel like I was getting the best care,” said Yang. “It sounds like easy treatment but I think besides all the chemotherapy and surgeries, the biggest thing that happened to me and my family is fear. It’s something we never dealt with our whole life and hopefully don’t have to deal with it again in the future.”

His first call to IU Health was to Maria Siddons, a clinical coordinator with destination services. From that first conversation, Yang said he felt more at ease, like he was heading in the right direction for his treatment options.

“I didn’t make the decision immediately. I talked to Maria, and Dr. Einhorn reviewed my records and told me what he recommended – high dose chemo and stem cell transplant. I worried about how far I could travel and I also hesitated because of the cost,” said Yang. After another round of high-dose chemotherapy, Yang said he continued to lack confidence in the hospital and providers.

In April he came to IU Health.

“I had no choice. I needed a back up plan if I had another reoccurrence. I felt like the doctors in China weren’t as experienced as here. Just talking to doctors here gave me the assurance that I was in the right hands. It was a question of ‘what if it returns. What are the next options?” said Yang.

Those options began in September. He returned to Indiana for surgery to remove infected lymph nodes.

“I would tell other men that they need to take care of things as soon as possible. It’s not something you can avoid or ignore. You have to do something. Do your research,” said Yang. “I wasn’t 100 percent confident with my doctors and I began reading papers by Dr. Einhorn and his team. I do whatever he tells me to do. He’s spent his life researching and I trust him.”

— By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
   Reach Banes via email tfender1@iuhealth.org.