Former rugby player tackles the fight of his life

July 10, 2020 / by / 41 Comments
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By Mack Drake
Special to GCU News Bureau

Ian Youngblood shaved his head recently.

Former GCU rugby player Ian Youngblood is battling glioblastoma, a brain cancer without a known cure.

Where a full, healthy, flowing head of dirty brown hair once rested is a zipper-like scar running nearly ear to ear across the top of his scalp, a striking reminder of what just happened and the battles that lie ahead.

“It was about accepting the diagnoses,” Youngblood said. “It was about getting in the right mindset to fight this thing.”

The Grand Canyon University graduate was just weeks removed from learning he had Grade IV glioblastoma, a rare and aggressive form of brain cancer without a known cure.

Youngblood, 29, was diagnosed toward the end of a three-month nursing mission in New York, where he helped fight COVID-19 at the heart of the pandemic. Even though he was working as a nurse in the Phoenix area, he dropped everything to assist a city that desperately needed extra help.

“I knew that if I was going to make a difference and help fight this invisible enemy here in Arizona, I needed to go to New York and gain the right knowledge,” the Seattle native said. “Nobody knew how to fight this virus, and cases were skyrocketing. New York hospitals were short on staff. I knew I needed to help.”

Youngblood volunteered his services through a staffing agency in March and was deployed a few days later. Although his mission originally was scheduled for three weeks, he spent more than 80 days in New York.

Youngblood volunteered to go to New York and use his nursing skills to fight the pandemic.

It was in June, toward the end of his deployment, that Youngblood began to feel the symptoms. It began with a throbbing headache one morning. Severe nausea and vomiting quickly followed.

Something wasn’t right.

“The people I was working with in New York basically dragged me to the emergency room,” Youngblood said. “Being a former football and rugby player, I tried to tough it out and act like I was fine. Obviously, I’m really glad they did what they did.”

After a number of tests and scans, doctors in the intensive unit at White Plains (N.Y.) Hospital diagnosed Youngblood with glioblastoma and operated the next day to remove the tumor from his right frontal lobe.

Only 25% of glioblastoma patients survive more than one year, and only 5% survive more than five years. The average survival time is 12-18 months.

“Having played sports most of my life, I’ve broken bones and I’ve busted my face up, but nothing can prepare you for something like this,” Youngblood said. “At 29 years old, nobody expects to get news like this. This is a form of cancer that may only allow you to live for another two years. That’s tough to hear when all you want to do is help others.”

Youngblood’s size and fitness earned him the rugby nickname “Moose.”

Steady doses of radiation and chemotherapy are now in Youngblood’s future as he attempts to beat this new and unexpected enemy.

As he fights his battle, Youngblood is drawing strength from the same relentless mindset and work ethic that made him a star on the GCU men’s rugby team and earned him the nickname “Moose.” A former Eastern Washington University football commit, Youngblood transitioned to rugby on the fly and played for the Lopes from 2013 to 2016.

“He was the definition of fit,” former teammate Kyle Hammontree said. “He was always either in the gym or studying – even on our road trips. He would study for his exams until 1 a.m. before games. He’s one of the most determined and hard-working people I’ve ever met.”

Said assistant coach Adam Muszynski, “Ian was immediately a big contributor — on and off the field. He gained the respect of both players and coaches with his athleticism, positive attitude, intense work ethic and general caring for the program.”

After graduating with his Bachelor of Science in Nursing, Youngblood worked at various hospitals in the area before accepting a job as an allergy injection and triage nurse at the GCU Health and Wellness Clinic in 2018.

Youngblood has his dog, Kinje, at his side as he fights the disease.

“He was super energetic,” said Connie Colbert, the clinic’s director. “He had his mind set on furthering his nursing career and being a nurse practitioner. He interacted very well with students. They all loved him. He brought tea for the staff and was always very considerate.

“We’re all praying for him. In the health care field, you spend a lot of time with each other. Everybody here enjoyed being around him.”

Now back in Phoenix, Youngblood is receiving treatment and maintaining a positive attitude. He’s living his life as normally as possible while continuing his studies to become a nurse practitioner. He’s also finding ways to stay active with help from his dog, Kinje.

“I’m truly honored to have the outpouring of support,” Youngblood said. “I wouldn’t be in the right place mentally or spiritually if it wasn’t for all the support I’ve received from my friends, family, teammates and community. The thoughts and prayers have been a huge help.

“I’ll be OK. I played rugby, and we like to hit. I’m going to fight this with everything I’ve got.”


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41 Responses
  1. Lionel Williams

    Praying for you Ian! Keep your eyes set on Him brother.

    Jul.10.2020 at 12:25 pm
  2. Elaine Gregory

    Sending you prayers to our Christ to surround you with love and healing.

    Jul.10.2020 at 4:17 pm
  3. Maggie Sabay

    I worked with Ian at Canyon Health and he truly is an incredible human being. He eats healthy and exercise’s daily. He does all that science promises long life. May God grant him supernatural Grace and healing. I pray for miraculous healing. He deserves a healthy life so he can fulfil his God given dreams.

    Jul.10.2020 at 9:58 pm
  4. Tracey J. Adesegun, Ed.D

    Ian, I don’t know you personally and we have never met. But I will definitely be praying for you. Thank you for your and dedication to the field of medicine. May God keep you well and protected.

    Jul.11.2020 at 8:44 am
  5. Mandana

    Ian, I read the story and I really admire you for who you are! I will pray for ! Keep fighting, you’ll be fine! I can feel it that you’ll beat this disease!

    Jul.13.2020 at 1:53 pm
  6. Julio henriquez

    May this become a testimony for GOD’s kingdom and leave in impact in peoples lives. Me and my family have you in our prayers brother.
    In Jesus name

    Jul.15.2020 at 7:50 am
  7. Angela

    I am sure GCU is supporting but I wanted to say that as a GCU student I am rooting for successful healing and recovery. You have a long life ahead of you and you will beat this by knowing your strength, the power of God, and your support system. Many blessings to you and your family.

    Jul.15.2020 at 1:11 pm
  8. Nkeiru

    Hey Ian, I don’t know if you will see this but there is the greatest of physicians, God and until he says it is over, it is not yet over. He alone knew your first and last day on earth. Today, I declare as God created you in his likeness and image and the bible NEVER mentioned that God has cancer and so you have that DNA and the blood Jesus shed on the cross will transfuse you and eliminate all that is not planted by God. Child of God, put your trust in God and he will show the way.

    Jul.15.2020 at 1:12 pm
  9. Sheryn Atkinson

    I will be praying for God’s healing for you every day!

    Jul.15.2020 at 1:21 pm
  10. Deborah Hunley

    Prayers to you and the family.

    Jul.15.2020 at 1:25 pm
  11. Erica Gonzalez

    Ian, I think that you are a gift to those around you and this world. Your beautiful smile is a bright light!! I will be praying for your recovery, that God gives you strength each and every day to keep fighting and sharing God’s love with those in need. You are beautiful!!!!
    Much love,
    Erica Gonzalez, Oxnard, California

    Jul.15.2020 at 1:30 pm
  12. Carmaleita Taylor-Watts

    Ian, you are a fighter. God is faithful. Stay strong.

    Jul.15.2020 at 1:34 pm
  13. Elizabeth Peters

    From a neuro nurse and recent MSN graduate from GCU I can say you are the best area for treatment. I did all my neuro training in Phoenix at the Barrow Neurological Institute back in 1991. May God wrap His arms around you during this time to get you through the hard days. You got this!
    Praying here in Atlanta, Georgia,
    Liz

    Jul.15.2020 at 1:39 pm
  14. Nita Stout

    I pray that God continue to give him the strength and healing he needs as he fight this battle.. After reading this story, it broke my heart. But I have faith in God, and He gives the last words. You will have a testimony on this because you are covered by the Blood. Ian, continue to fight and to faith. You seem to be a big fighter, so please DO NOT give up and STOP FIGHTING..
    My prayers will be with you..

    Jul.15.2020 at 1:39 pm
  15. Emily Rukanzakanza

    Hi Ian,
    I don’t know you personally, but I now know your story and my thoughts and prayers are with you. We believe and trust that God who knows you completely will heal you in Jesus’s name.
    Thank you for your loving and willing heart to serve others especially at a trying time like this. May God bless your faithfulness and restore your health so you can continue the work He created you for.
    Blessings, :)
    Emily

    Jul.15.2020 at 1:44 pm
  16. Diane L Weech

    Dear Ian, You are not alone in the fight against cancer. There are many Christians struggling, not only internally but also externally. I also have an incurable cancer, and my walk with Christ has not staggered. Give all that you have to the purpose God has called you. We are peculiar people, and our hearts will always lean to His will for us. I will not stop serving Him; even when I physically can’t my life will be a testimony. I send prayers that the Lord will surround you with comfort and peace that His healing virtue will touch you and bring healing to your body. I pray that well meaning Christians do not bring condemnation but surround you with edification and love. God bless you.

    Jul.15.2020 at 2:02 pm
  17. Samuel Tigah

    Praying for your total healing. May the Lord of mercy and grace see your heart and compassion for others and have compassion upon you and give you the greatest miracle of your life and a story to tell your generation and the generations that will come after you.

    Jul.15.2020 at 2:13 pm
  18. Consuelo Johnson

    May the Lord keep his guardian angels camped about you. May his comfort and love wipe away any tears you may shed on the inside and give you peace. From what I have read, you are an amazing individual with strength and determination. Keep doing what you do. Prayers and blessings.

    Jul.15.2020 at 3:06 pm
  19. marie kamara

    May God Almighty rain down showers of healing upon you. The sick bed is not your portion in Jesus’ mighty Name. AMEN.

    Jul.15.2020 at 3:32 pm
  20. Christina Desiato

    Ian,
    Although I do not know you personally, I am a student at GCU and recently read your story. Our family has added you to our prayer chain. My brother, Greg, from Milton VT, was diagnosed with the exact same cancer and grade in November 2019. He is still in his health journey toward healing. We pray for you, Ian.

    Jul.15.2020 at 3:43 pm
  21. Tina Obeng

    Ian, I’m praying that God will surround with His infinite love and mercy as you battle through this disease. You’re an optimistic young man and your faith alone will change the fate of your destiny. Trust God, don’t despair!

    Jul.15.2020 at 3:49 pm
  22. Shep Hurwitz

    I suggest Ian get in touch with Neurosurgery at Duke Health in Durham, NC. They didn’t do too well with Ted Kennedy, but there are reports of newer immune treatments with 5+ year survival. And you need to be a fighter like all rugby scrummies. Best
    Shep Hurwitz MD

    Jul.15.2020 at 4:17 pm
  23. Susan Bryan

    Ian, I know that you graduated from GCU, and your belief in the Lord Jesus Christ will heal you. Praying for your total health. Susan Bryan

    Jul.15.2020 at 4:36 pm
  24. Shaterica Henderson

    Sending prayers. My mother died from this same cancer back in 2014 — she was 53 and I miss her dearly. It is true that this is a hard cancer to beat, but God can perform miracles!

    Jul.15.2020 at 4:41 pm
  25. Edna

    Keep looking forward and not back, you will make it.

    Jul.15.2020 at 5:09 pm
  26. Julie Roeske

    Dear Ian,
    I am a Respiratory Care Practitioner in Milwaukee. I have worked in a Neuro intensive care unit in a level 1 trauma center taking care of patients with Glioblastomas. You are an incredible individual with a heart of gold. I will send my prayers to you everyday. You got this and can beat this. Thanks for taking care of covid-19 patients. Your dedication to humanity is compelling!

    Jul.15.2020 at 5:10 pm
  27. Cindy Douglas

    Lifting you up in prayers – as a nurse you understand that attitude is a significant component of fighting cancer. You have a lot of GCU Nurses that will continue to lift you up in prayer.
    Cindy Douglas, DNP, RN

    Jul.15.2020 at 6:18 pm
  28. Melissa Hathaway

    Father God bring full healing in Jesus name. Praying for you. I know what you are going through. Keep fighting. 🙏🏻🙌🏻

    Jul.15.2020 at 7:57 pm
  29. Elizabeth Ramirez

    Hello Ian,

    You don’t know me but I love that you are determined to win the battle!! We don’t know what God has in store for us, but “what” we do know is that WE have His Faith and His Guidance to lead us to our destination. I have always told myself that I was ALWAYS going to be a “Survivor” and not a “Quitter” because Our Lord has given US the ability to fight the many battles that are in front of us. I feel your pain because I have family members that went through the same thing like you and it has been over 10 years and they are still going on STRONG!!! The greatest gift that WE are given is BLESSINGS and COURAGE to take on anything in front of us, and with you being a Rugby player that tells everything already that you are TOUGH and you will beat this because YOU are a beautiful gift and with your charm and love to becoming a nurse will pay off in the end and you will live a happy and beautiful life!!! Prayers going your way and may Our Lord lay His hands upon you and Bless YOU in every way that you need to keep you going and be able to beat the battle!!!

    Jul.15.2020 at 8:12 pm
  30. Charlotte Kyei

    Sending prayers. God is still in the business of doing miracles. We are trusting Him to heal you Ian.

    Jul.15.2020 at 9:54 pm
  31. Althea

    Hi
    You are in my prayers, walk by Faith and know that God is with you on this journey

    Althea

    Jul.16.2020 at 5:17 am
  32. Frances

    My prayers are with you and I believe you are going to turn this around and walk away with a HUGE testimony to the healing of our creator. Believe that you can be healed in Jesus Name.

    I believe, that you will return to a full life of taking care of people and giving them hope!

    Jul.16.2020 at 10:18 am
  33. Frances

    My prayers are with you.
    I believe, that you will return to a full life of taking care of people and giving them hope!

    Jul.16.2020 at 10:19 am
  34. martha muthoni

    There is healing in the name of Jesus!. I pray for total healing and restoration in Jesus name.

    Jul.16.2020 at 12:14 pm
  35. Patricia Arana

    Ian, I was touched by the story, you are a kind and loving person. I will be praying for you and for God and Virgin Mary to heal you so you can live long and fulfill God’s purpose. In the name of Jesus.

    Jul.16.2020 at 11:38 pm
  36. Evelyn Martin

    Hello Ian, May the Good Lord continue to touch you with HIs Healing Hands.Keep Be strong and keep fighting

    Jul.17.2020 at 7:55 am
  37. Roxanne Iten

    I’m praying for you also, Ian! We need you here, so you have another prayer warrior by your side!
    May God bless you & heal you, as he knows you are his light here on earth and we need you here!
    Roxanne Iten, Yuma, AZ

    Jul.17.2020 at 9:25 am
  38. Agnes Eytchison

    Dear Ian,
    My church and family are praying for you for strength. You do the nursing profession so proud and we need future Nurse Practitioners like you! Be encouraged Little Brother…
    Agnes Eytchison, DNP, RN, FNP-BC
    GCU DNP graduate December 2019

    Jul.17.2020 at 12:20 pm
  39. Lisa Surian

    Dear Ian,
    I read what you are going through and it took me back 4 yrs ago when I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer. It went from my ovaries to my brain. I’ve had brain surgery, hysterectomy, 6 rounds of high dose chemo, and a stem cell transplant. I am considered cured. But when I started, the prognosis was I’d live a few months.
    I never let that enter my mind. After so many years of church and bible study I decided to put my whole trust in Jesus. In the Book of Daniel it tells us that God will never leave His children. He will walk through every trial with us. There are 3 outcomes: He will take the trial away, He will see us through the trial, or He will take us to heaven to be with Him forever.
    I didn’t know what my outcome would be, just that I wanted Jesus to be with me through every treatment, scan, fear, and sleepless night.
    When I put my trust in Him, He was with me every moment I promise you. I had so much peace and calmness. My doctors were amazed but I always gave Him the glory. I started a gratitude journal so each day I would think of something that I was grateful for and a bible verse to go along with it. There would be painful days where I would be thankful for a text from a friend or a bird chirping out my window. There was always something.
    I am sorry this is so long but I know that God wants you to know that He is with you. Every step, treatment, appointment. May God bless you and give you the peace that only He can give.
    Lastly, read Luke 8:43-48 Mark 5:25-31 Matthew 9:20-22
    So many times I asked to have the faith of that woman…just to touch His clothes and He would say to me – Your faith has healed you. I pray that for you also.
    I give God all the glory! I will be praying for you. Praying for peace, miracles, healing,and great faith.

    Jul.18.2020 at 1:42 am
  40. Alexandra Rivas

    Sending you cyber hugs and praying for you. Stay strong, Ian.

    Jul.25.2020 at 3:03 pm
  41. Alice Adebiyi

    Strongly praying for you, know that you have a purpose on this earth and God will perfect it. There is nothing too hard for God to do, He will heal you and you will praise Him again and again. Trust and depend on Him to see His miracles in your life. God bless you.

    Aug.05.2020 at 7:35 am
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