Alumni Stories

Cancer— to cure— to career

NNU alumna researched the exact drug that helped cure her cancer.

By Cherissa Roebuck

During the summer before her senior year at NNU, Kendall (Yoder) Yake ’04 looked forward to a schedule chocked full of exciting adventures: a trip to Portugal and the Madeira Islands with NNU’s Hallelujah Brass followed by a summer tour of the Northwest with Parable, one of NNU’s summer ministry groups. The days were so busy she hardly had time to think about the unusual symptoms that had been plaguing her for months—the itchy skin, the night sweats, the severe fatigue.

When she returned home from summer travel, however, the symptoms could no longer be ignored. One chest x-ray and one simple blood test later, Kendall was hearing the words that no 21-year old college student wants to hear—it looks like cancer.

The doctors explained that while she was still under anesthesia during the biopsy procedure they would confirm the diagnosis, and if indeed it was cancer, a port-a-catheter (a device to help deliver chemotherapy) would be implanted under her skin.

“I think that was the point at which I had the most fear,” Kendall said. “I would either wake up and be told, ‘No, it isn’t cancer,’ or I would wake up and a port would be implanted under my skin.”

At the realization the port had been implanted, Kendall says her head rang loudly with God’s words, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’– more loudly and clearly than she had ever heard a voice before that was not her own. “In that moment, I knew everything would be okay,” Kendall said. “We serve a God who is bigger and more amazing than we can really believe; that is, until something like this comes along and we see Him in action like never before.”

Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, an aggressive cancer of the lymphatic system, was the diagnosis. She had several large tumors located around her heart and lungs, one the size of a racquetball. “From there it was a surge of emotions,” Kendall said, “I simply could not believe I was hearing the word ‘cancer’.”

Studying the cure

It was during Kendall’s junior year that former NNU professor Dr. Chris Kapicka helped her get involved in a research project that was necessary to complete in order to earn a degree in biology and chemistry. At that time, Dr. Kapicka had put her in touch with Dr. Richard Olson of the Boise VA Medical Center, who happened to be studying doxorubicin and cardio toxicity, muscle damage to the heart.

Several months later when Kendall was in remission, she returned to the research project under Drs. Kapicka and Olson. The research team studied how doxorubicin damages the heart and how to potentially modify the drug to make it less toxic to the heart but remain lethal to the cancer. Dr. Kapicka said currently there are modified doxorubicin drugs in human clinical trials that are a direct result of the research Kendall and the research team performed.

“Kendall had a personal interest in the research—she knew the drug had helped cure her but that it had some serious side effects,” Kapicka said. “There’s a limit on how much doxorubicin a person can take in their lifetime because of how damaging it is. If Kendall were to have cancer again, she would not be able to be treated with this drug since she reached the lifetime limit.”

During the research, Kendall spent time talking to Dr. Olson at the Boise VA about using her degree as a launching pad for a career in pharmacy. Dr. Olson’s wife was the oncology pharmacist at the clinic where Kendall received cancer treatments and was her first exposure to the different sides of a career in pharmacy. “God really intersected many people in my life to help me end up where I am today,” stated Yake.

The journey to community

With her father, Ken Yoder, being an NNU math professor for 27 years, Kendall grew up around the NNU community. When it came time for her to select a college, however, she wasn’t sure where she wanted to go. She ended up choosing NNU although at the time she didn’t understand why God would direct her there.

“When I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, I soon realized I had the NNU community holding me up in prayer and support. I had meaningful relationships with my professors because of the smaller class sizes, and they gave me the support I needed to finish my degree on time. If I had gone to any other school, I’m quite certain I would have had to drop out and go home to be treated. It was truly amazing. God led me to NNU for a reason– He knew I’d need this community of believers more than ever.” Kendall said.

Dr. Kapicka believes God will use Kendall’s cancer journey to touch many lives as she works with other cancer patients. “She is going to be able to sympathize with her patients far better than someone who’s never been through this—she understands,” Kapicka said. “We sometimes go down pathways and wonder why; we don’t see until later how God uses it.”

Kendall agrees. She said she has seen God orchestrate many parts of her journey to lead her to her current career.

“Prior to my diagnosis, I never thought of a career in pharmacy and never imagined I would love being a pharmacist,” Kendall said. “I’m now working with other young Hodgkin’s Lymphoma patients and having the opportunity to encourage them with, ‘This will be difficult, but you will make it!’”

Kendall graduated with a bachelor of science in biology and chemistry in 2004 and went on to pharmacy school to complete her doctor of pharmacy in 2009. She now lives with her husband, Kyle Yake ’05, and their toddler son, Ryan Kenneth, in Sandpoint, Idaho, where Kyle is the youth pastor at Sandpoint Church of the Nazarene and Kendall works as an oncology pharmacist at Kootenai Cancer Center.

“God knew my heart’s desires long before I did. I praise Him for the health I experience today and for leading me to NNU.”