Tyler Varing first realized something was wrong when shooting hoops wore him out.
Then 15 and on the high school basketball team, the normally energetic teenager couldn’t put on weight no matter how much he worked out, and he had a bad cough he couldn’t shake all season.
Varing finally went to see a doctor, who was so alarmed by his symptoms that he thought the sophomore had tuberculosis. A chest X-ray revealed a softball-sized tumor in Varing's chest. It wasn’t tuberculosis — it was mixed germ cell cancer.
Germ cells are normally found in the ovaries or testicles. But they can sometimes be left behind in other parts of the body when an embryo is developing, later growing into benign or cancerous tumors. This type of cancer is rare, diagnosed in only about 900 people a year, and is most commonly found in children and young adults. Germ cell tumors account for just 16 percent of cancers diagnosed in adolescents between the ages of 15 and 19 years old, and only 4 percent of cancers diagnosed in children younger than 15. The prognosis is generally favorable, with a cure rate of 82 percent even for stage 4 disease.
It turned out that Varing had malignant tumors in both his chest and abdomen. Coincidentally, he lived about two miles from City of Hope in Duarte, California, and headed there for treatment. He first underwent four rounds of chemo consisting of five days per round, then 16 days off before the next round, to shrink his tumors. The tumors were then surgically removed, and he underwent another four rounds of chemo. His treatment took a total of eight grueling months.
That was 10 years ago, and Varing, now 25, works in development at USC and will be starting an MBA program there next month. He lives with his girlfriend (who coincidentally works at City of Hope) in West L.A. He is considered cured. He goes to City of Hope just once a year now for a complete physical, which will be free for the rest of his life. “It’s called the survivorship clinic,” Varing explained. “You get all your labs done for free. My cancer has a blood marker they run a test for. They test your hearing your eyes, everything.”
City of Hope has been incredible to me in so many ways,” he said. “My experience there was life-changing. Cancer took a lot away — the experience was incredibly tough on my family and me, but it also brought us closer together. While I had the disease, we all went though it together. My sisters went to group therapy there. We just want to give back to a place that gave so much to us.”
What sprang to mind as a way to reciprocate was the activity that inadvertently started Varing on his journey of illness and recovery: basketball. In 2017, Varing, who has raised money online for City of Hope through ourHope, City of Hope’s personal fundraising page since 2014, decided to “up his game” by holding a basketball tournament at his grade school in Arcadia. It was the brainchild of his cousin and best friend, Bryson Berryman.
Last year’s “Varing Classic” raised more than $30,000 for pediatric cancer research, and this year, Varing and Berryman have set a goal of $50,000 for the June 9 event. It’s a three-on-three basketball tournament with all proceeds going to City of Hope. Each team pledges a minimum of $100 to City of Hope’s Pediatric Cancer Fund to play. There will also be a silent auction of donated items, the Tommy’s burger truck and sno-cones.
The event will be held at 11 a.m. at Barnhart School at 240 Colorado St. in Arcadia. Please click here to register or click here to donate
When Varing was fighting cancer a decade ago, Berryman said, “We basically did anything humanly possible to try to convince both Tyler and our family that our humor, love, laughter and power of thought would propel us through those tough times…. To be frank, however, in the middle of chemo treatments, surgeries, blood transfusions, there is not always room to crack a joke (hard as I tried). Some days were just hard. But I can say without a doubt that all of us could not have gotten through it without the wonderful people at City of Hope. The doctors, nurses and entire staff at City of Hope saved my best friend’s life and the least I can do is help in the small way that I can to repay that debt.”
“The Varing Classic is a celebration of family,” Varing added. “I was never alone at City of Hope. My grandparents were there, my parents were there, kids from high school were there, nurses and doctors were there.” It took a team to get him through it, and now Varing is thrilled to be happy, healthy and continuing the teamwork on the basketball court to help the next generation of kids.
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