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Aspiring Kamloops physician died of cancer while carrying out late father's legacy

Dr. Joshua Raj Kotaro Yoneda BSc, MSc, MD lost his life to a rare cancer in May, 2022.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/ Marissa Yoneda

A young doctor in Kamloops lost his months long fight against cancer in May of this year.

Dr. Joshua Raj Kotaro Yoneda died on May 16, 2022 at the age of 27.

“We tried everything to beat this disease, but it was relentless,” said his sister Marissa Yoneda. “Our family is devastated.”

This is not the first time the family has suffered a tragic loss to cancer. Marissa’s father, Dr. Ross Yoneda, died thirteen years ago after serving the community as a family physician for two decades. Son Joshua was carrying out his father’s legacy in the field of medicine, aspiring to open his own family practice in Kamloops.

Joshua was in his last year of UBC medical school when he was diagnosed with a rare cancer. He fought with bravery and continued to help others until he passed.

“He found solace in helping others and using his wide array of knowledge to empathize with those in similar circumstances as himself,” Marissa said. “This speaks to the type of person he was, where even in moments of pain, he still continued to push through to help others.”

READ MORE: $70,000 raised for aspiring Kamloops doctor facing rare form of cancer

With one year left before medical school graduation, Joshua moved to Vancouver to begin his first rotation at Royal Columbian Hospital. About halfway through his clinical, he began having trouble walking and had tests done.

It took three months before it was determined he had Grade 4 Spinal Cord Glioma that had metastasized to the bone, a cancer so rare there are no standard guidelines for treatment. During the months of uncertainty he continued with his school working at Vancouver General Hospital.

“There is so much more to learn about this disease,” Marissa said. “There are only two treatments offered in Canada for this type of cancer.”

Dr. Joshua Raj Kotaro Yoneda BSc, MSc, MD (right) with sister Marissa Yoneda.
Dr. Joshua Raj Kotaro Yoneda BSc, MSc, MD (right) with sister Marissa Yoneda.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/ Marissa Yoneda

After receiving the diagnosis, Joshua started chemotherapy in Vancouver. 

Marissa launched a GoFundMe for her brother in December to help with medical costs and cancer research.

“The community support was absolutely tremendous, the donations, messages and prayers really sustained us during the many daily battles we faced,” Marissa said. “I think we feel lucky to be a part of such a wonderful community when we needed support. Josh got cute packages that made him smile, it all mattered.”

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During this tumultuous time, Marissa was able to complete her Bachelor of Science degree at Thompson Rivers University, graduating with distinction, and showing her own resilience. She intends to carry on the legacy of both her brother and father and become a physician.

“I had to finish my studies through this when this was all going on four hours away,” she said. “The Coquihalla washed away and I wasn’t able to drive so I was flying back and forth on weekends between classes.

“My brother was my best friend. It is important to keep his legacy alive, he had so much more to give.”

Joshua wrote Marissa a letter when she graduated that included a list of tools she can use when furthering her education at the University of Alberta later this year.

“Congratulations on your graduation, I am very proud of you and everything you have achieved in the last 18 years,” he wrote. “You will accomplish so much and more at the University of Alberta and I am infinitely excited for you in the next part of your journey.”

In the letter Joshua suggests resources and lists books that helped guide him in life and on his educational path.

“And there you go, my personal pick of tools for your toolbox. I promise you they will help you along your journey. You will accomplish great things. Just remember, ‘Never stop learning, because life never stops teaching.’”

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Three weeks ago, Joshua graduated from the University of British Columbia and his sister accepted his degree in his honour. The school lowered their flags in his memory. The Faculty of Medicine and the Class of 2022 paid tribute to him at the ceremony.

“We are so incredibly proud that he continued with his clinical rotations despite dealing with a life changing diagnosis of his own,” she said. “Joshua’s immense courage and strength during a time of such hardship is something we will remember and cherish forever.”

Joshua graduated from Thompson Rivers University with a major in Cellular Molecular Microbial Biology. He then completed his master’s degree in Microbial Genetics at the University of Regina. After successfully defending his thesis on antibiotic resistant bacteria, Joshua was accepted into the Southern Medical Program at the University of British Columbia.

“My brother was the most extraordinary human being,” Marissa said. “He was kind, empathetic, patient, intelligent, and brave. His will to live and fight was incredible. Joshua was our Sikh-samurai warrior, and we will honour him forever.”

To donate to the family click here.

“Any future donations we receive will be put toward something to remember Josh by, that is going to keep his legacy alive,” Marissa said. “As a family we are still discussing how we are going to do this.”

To contact a reporter for this story, email Shannon Ainslie or call 250-819-6089 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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