The diagnosis the 44-year-old Gonzaga Prep cross country coach received two months later figuratively and literally took his breath away. From that day forward, Acute Myelogenous Leukemia altered Feryn’s life.
“I’d had a good winter of training,” said Feryn, a Spokane native and Mead graduate. “I thought it was an iron deficiency initially. I literally went from my appointment with my doctor straight to Deaconess (Medical Center).”
He stayed in the hospital 40 days, going through two rounds of chemo.
Feryn had to take a leave of absence from Gonzaga Prep where he’s a counselor. His wife, Angie, also took a leave of absence from her job at the YMCA and has been by his side.
“We are shocked, angered and confused, but God has continued to show up in lots of beautiful small ways over the last few days,” Angie wrote on her first post at caringbridge.org. “We are humbled and overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and love that we have received.”
Joe Feryn agreed to talk about his journey so long as people knew he wasn’t asking for more financial assistance.
“The community has done so much,” Feryn said. “We’ve been blown away.”
His G-Prep family and friends across Spokane have stepped up. In late August, coaches at Mead put on a fun run, raising $27,000; a fund raiser at G-Prep brought in another $7,000.
He got to go home after the first two rounds, but his two boys had to live with other family because their father’s immunities were too low and couldn’t fight off an illness.
Feryn said his journey has been humbling.
“Watching the impact on my family and having their lives disrupted …,” Feryn said, not able to finish his sentence. “Sometimes the hardest thing has been accepting help. There are so many people who have helped and want to help. We’re so grateful.”
The goal from the outset was to kill the cancerous cells in his blood so that he would be a candidate for a bone marrow transplant.
Feryn has received fabulous news twice since undergoing treatment. The first good report came when it was a determined an older sister who lives in Vancouver is a match for the transplant.
The second good news came last week when his doctor told him he essentially is in remission.
“I don’t know if I can explain how I felt,” Feryn said of the meeting with his doctor last week. “Hearing those words, that I’m in remission, come out of his mouth … My wife and I started crying. And the doctor was starting to tear up.”
“Remission. We’ve said it a million times this afternoon, texted it, written it, said it again … remission,” wrote Angie. “We both began to cry. To be fair I’ve cried at all five bioposy results – happy or sad, my emotion was not surprising, but at Joe’s tears, his oncologist passed around the tissue box and teared up himself. Three rounds of induction chemo, just over 50 days in the hospital and he’s in remission. Like releasing a breath held.”
Angie went on to write, “The depth of our joy today feels so much like the depth of our sadness in July. They are strangely similar emotions, but one begs to be managed and the other invites you to stay. We know that the road ahead is long and hard. Fear always calls for holding back and leaving hopes low, but today, we’re tamping fear down, sitting a little longer with this joy and remembering that hope does not disappoint.”
Feryn underwent a week-long maintenance round of chemo last week to prepare him for the transplant.
“Because of my good health and age and the fact that the leukemia was resistant to three rounds of chemo, we feel the best case is to move forward to a transplant,” Feryn said.
The transplant will occur in Seattle.
“We don’t have an exact date yet but I’ll probably go over in early November,” Feryn said.
Feryn will be in Seattle about 100 days.
“They say it’s a three-month cycle,” he said. “They’ll put me through some more chemo and radiation. That’ll give them time to harvest the stem cells from my sister. Then they’ll give me her stem cells and we’ll wait and see what the body does. Once I’m back into recovery and my body is doing what it’s supposed to do, I’ll come back here and we’ll monitor here through my oncologist.”
Feryn has been able to attend two cross country meets. Stephen Manfred, the girls coach, agreed to help his friend and coach the boys this fall as well.
“The battle he’s fighting, he’s obviously one of the toughest guys I know,” said Manfred.
Feryn’s goal is to be back counseling students by early spring and coaching track. He understands he’s being optimistic.
“What I’ve learned is it’s not my timeline,” he said.
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