One day, after playing with his brother, Ryan complained of his leg hurting. We didn’t think it was anything, at first. But we started to think something was wrong when he didn’t want to go out and play in the snow. After having Ryan checked out and sending him back to school, everything seemed fine. A week and a half later, Ryan woke up complaining of back and hip pain. Again, we took him to the doctor’s office, where they sent us for a hip X-ray and a full blood work-up.
At 10:30 that night, the doctor called our house and asked us to go to Georgetown Hospital the next day for more blood work. Something was wrong with Ryan’s numbers. Our pediatrician had talked to the head of the oncology department at two different hospitals. Things were not adding up.
There was a lot going through our heads. I knew the doctor wanted to rule out things. It was a super scary time, but we tried to be positive. We returned the following day to Georgetown for a bone marrow biopsy. It was December 23, 2009, a day when most families were getting ready for the holidays with family and friends. Ryan was being admitted to the hospital. After numerous grueling tests, they found the answer they were looking for: Ryan had acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Ryan started receiving standard-of-care treatment chemotherapy that night. He didn’t leave the hospital for three weeks.
Ryan and his cancer became my full-time job. Leukemia treatment for boys is 3½ years. We knew we were in for a long haul.
The chemotherapy took Ryan’s immune system to zero. If he had a slight fever — 99 degrees — he would have to go into the hospital for 48 hours. We were in and out of the hospital too many times to count. It became our new normal. Our other kids’ childhoods were changed forever as well — they could no longer have play dates or sleepovers. Life as we had known it was gone forever.
Chemotherapy was difficult for Ryan, but it has saved the lives of so many. We’re the lucky ones. We went through cancer and came out the other side.
In the winter of 2007, a group of women and I got together and began running. After nine months of training, all of us completed our first triathlon under the team name, “Just Tri It.” We began to do more races, and more women joined us. When Ryan was diagnosed with leukemia, they sprang into action to support me and my family. They decided to change our group name to JUST TRYAN IT in his honor.
In the spring of 2010, JUST TRYAN IT was established as a 501(c)3 foundation. Our mission is to positively impact the lives of families whose children have been diagnosed with cancer by providing them with financial assistance. We also strive to instill the importance of philanthropy and service, promote wellness and inspire tomorrow’s leaders to make a difference in their communities.
When Ryan talks about his treatment and his journey, he says, “Fight cancer with a smile on your face and never look back. You always have to look forward because that is where the cure is.”
Our lives were changed forever by Ryan’s diagnosis, but cancer picked the wrong kid…or the right one. Ryan is not going to quit advocating until cancer is cured. He doesn’t think any other child should have to go through what he went through. He’s going to advocate for kids with cancer for his whole life because cancer is what made him who he is today.