SARANAC - Ian Yando didn't ask to be an inspiration to others. He didn't ask to be someone that people even several years older than him would look up to. However, that's what he's become.
The 18-year-old Saranac Central High School student has had a long and difficult road that starts from the day he was born, said his mother, Cathy Yando.
Ian was born with Diamond-Blackfan anemia, a rare form of anemia that affects about one in 2 million people.
"We didn't realize he even had this problem until he was about 7 weeks old," said Yando.
That was when Ian simply stopped breathing one night, said Yando, and was taken to the emergency room. He was treated and later referred to a specialist in Burlington, Vt., who diagnosed Ian with his condition, which required him to have transfusions to boost his red blood cell count.
However, Ian wasn't out of the woods. His transfusions led him to have an overload of iron, which eventually had to be treated for that on a regular basis.
Most recently, Ian and his family traveled to the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis last year for Ian to receive a bone marrow transplant after it was noticed his white blood cell and platelet counts had also dropped.
"We were there for five months," said Yando. "And, he never really complained, in spite of what he was going through."
It seemed as if things were finally starting to turn around for Ian - he was recovering well from his bone marrow transplant and was going back to school to pick up where he left off earlier in the year. Then, about a week ago, he was diagnosed with colon cancer.
"It was a total surprise to his doctors," said Yando. "You just don't see many 18-year-olds with colon cancer."
But, just as he's done in the past, Ian has showed tremendous bravery despite the latest challenge to his health, said his mother.
"It's a lot to deal with after so many years of issues, but he's such a strong kid," said Yando, who noted her son is now undergoing radiation and chemotherapy treatments at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington.
"He never complains," said Yando. "And, whenever we see other people going through something, he's always more concerned about them. It just amazes me how strong he is."
Susan LeBlanc, Ian's aunt, agreed.
"Ian is someone that I look up to even though he's only 18," said LeBlanc. "He's dealt with illness since he was born and his attitude through it all has been just unbelievable. It's amazing for someone his age to have the positive attitude he has."
As Ian undergoes his treatments, his family is also preparing to walk in the upcoming overnight Relay for Life event slated for Friday, June 17, at the Clinton County Fairgrounds in Morrisonville. Yando said she looks forward to participating in the event this year in Ian's honor, just as she has for the past four years in memory of her father, whom she and LeBlanc lost to prostate and bladder cancer.
"Relay for Life is one of the best things you can do to help others. It's such a good cause," Yando said of the event, which benefits the American Cancer Society. "The thing about it is, sooner or later, everyone knows someone who has been affected by cancer. It's important to be there for them to show you're rooting for them and to show you care."
Joan Sterling, community executive for the American Cancer Society, said participation by families like Ian's is crucial to helping fund cancer research and raise awareness. Sterling also added that even though Relay for Life is only a week away, there's still time to get on board with an event that can do so much for so many.
"It's never too late to pull together a team," said Sterling. "Even if you're not part of a team ... if you're a survivor or just want to show up to show your support, come. We just want you there."