The Makings of a Chemo Pal
Brutally honest and openly passionate, former Chemo Pal George Yioulos, doesn’t hold back when talking about the people he loves. His gregarious personality can be jarring to some, but he has the knack for making everyone feel like a close friend, and it’s clear that he is genuinely kind and caring.
George isn’t interested in small talk; he’s all about making deep connections with people and traveling the world as a way to open up his perspective on life. Both of these pursuits helped lead him on the path towards becoming a Chemo Pal with the Children’s Cancer Association (CCA).
13 years in the sailing industry has done George some good. It’s allowed him to meet a lot of people and travel around the world. There are 195 countries in the world, and he plans to see them all. Through his job, he met and befriended a single mom and her child, Robbie. On the surface, it was impossible to tell, but Robbie was very sick, and at the age of 19 he passed away.
“Robbie was a strong individual despite knowing he’d die and that stuck with me forever. Near the end of his life, I finally understood how much of an impact his illness had on the family for 17 years. I didn’t know how good I had it until I met him and found perspective. When he passed, I asked his mom about the organization that made the biggest difference in their lives, and she said, ‘Children’s Cancer Association.’”
The inner workings of the universe seemed to draw George towards volunteering as a Chemo Pal, and in 2015 he met Adam, who was diagnosed with Childhood Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL).
Why Being Present Matters
George describes his Chemo Pal with an endearing tone, “Adam is a homebody, he likes to be around his family. He gets strength from being around people he knows. He is shy, but if you spend enough time with him, it’s apparent that an inner kid is trying to jump out. The best times we’ve had were when I’ve made it comfortable enough to allow him to shine. He loves Connect Four and Battleship. It’s great to see that spark, and I think I gave him a different perspective on ways to have fun. His favorite games involve the challenge of strategy and push his mental capabilities; which was helpful in the hospital where there was a lot of waiting.”
But it wasn’t all pure fun, George struggled to learn the ins and outs of what it meant to be a Chemo Pal. “I put a ton of pressure on myself because there was a job to do. I had to improve the situation, that was important to me. I wanted to live up to the high expectations of a Chemo Pal. It was later that I realized it could also be fun. Just exist and be there for Adam. I had to work at not letting the challenges bother me personally. When I realized how much his family was going through and that it wasn’t about me, I learned a lot.”
Their match was a benefit for them both. While George grew through understanding Adam’s struggles, Adam came out of his shell and discussed with George profound issues and life questions. Three and a half years of treatment later, Adam was finally given the best news anyone could ask for; he was in remission.
George reflected on his experience and realized it’s the little things that mattered. “In the weirdest way, seeing Adam and his family go through so much hardship helped me to understand the pure joy in the smallest things. The joy of just having a good day, in treatment ending, in being released from the hospital. I saw joy in the tiniest details that I would never have considered, and that blew me away.
They found their courage and joy through the treatment process, an appreciation for their journey. You can’t see this and not be a changed person. You see them at their best and their worst. And if you don’t leave feeling better about humanity, then you’re an [absurd] person. It was a privilege to have a window into that and see the human spirit. He still has a long road ahead of him,but it was real, unmasked joy that I saw.”
George and Adam’s story has advice for everyone in it. Stay present, even during the most challenging times, because you could be opening the door to some truly amazing experiences with people you never would have expected.
Chemo Pal matches like Adam and George’s are only possible because of the generosity of our community and support from people just like you. Please consider donating today and help facilitate more Chemo Pal matches.