My Name Is Ryan

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As told by Ryan (last name withheld for privacy). My name is Ryan. On January 18th, 2012, I was a freshman just starting my second semester at Santa Margarita Catholic High School. I played JV lacrosse, kept good grades, and went to school with all my friends. On January 19th of 2012, my life changed forever. I was diagnosed with stage IV Ewing Sarcoma, bone cancer. It originated in my left hip and had spread to my lungs as well. When I was diagnosed, everything that I had going for me seemed to end. I had to decide if I still wanted to pursue my high school education. I had to decide which hospital I would trust with my life. I had to decide which surgeons I would let cut me open. Which type of radiation would have the most beneficial effects on my tumors whilst doing as little damage to my heart and lungs as possible. Which combination of drugs could combat the disease that had already progressed so far. I couldn’t play sports anymore because my hip was too fragile. I couldn’t go to school anymore because I was on chemotherapy and my blood counts were far too low. I couldn’t see most of my friends because I couldn’t let them get me sick. None of what I had worked so hard for seemed to matter at all anymore. Lying in a hospital bed six days a week, I couldn’t have cared less what my grades were.

Ryan with friendsAll my friends continued along their lives, growing up, playing sports, going to the beach, going to parties, and I was dying. It felt as though I had been plucked out of the river that is life and put on the shore to wait for a time. I didn’t really comprehend everything that was happening around me, and in the beginning it all seemed so new and scary. After a few months of chemotherapy life slowed down for me and I learned to appreciate little things. All I could really do was survive and try not to go crazy while I was imprisoned in a hospital room hooked up to a machine that slowly pumped poison into my veins all hours of the day and night. I listened to music, played video games, and saw my friends when I could.

On August 2nd, 2012, I had an internal hemipelvectomy of my left ilium with reconstruction using my left fibula. Basically, Dr. Lewis of M.D. Anderson Cancer Center cut out my left hip bone, and 10 inches of the smaller bone along my shin. She then replaced my hip with the bone material recovered from my shin. Today I walk with only one bone in my left shin and my old shin bone acting as a makeshift hip bone in the otherwise unoccupied space where my hip used to be. I remember the morning of the surgery, I ran across the sky bridge separating the hospital from the medical residence I was staying at and jumped up to touch the ceiling. This would seem insignificant at the time to anyone passing by, but it was the last time I would walk without support for almost two years. I couldn’t participate in any sports during my time as a high schooler; I couldn’t even walk until senior year. My surgery was so new it had only been attempted a couple times before I laid on that table and let them try it on me. The research funds help find newer and better ways to save lives. I was extremely lucky to be given this type of surgery, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without the support of my family, friends, and neighbors.

Nobody has a perfect childhood. Being diagnosed with cancer opened my eyes to the struggles of my friends and peers more than anything else ever has. I have lied in a bed and felt sorry for myself for days while the people around me died and went through excruciating ordeals to salvage what little time they could. I am so incredibly lucky to live the life I live, I still get to walk, run, eat, sleep, go out with friends, attend college, work out at the gym, go to the beach, and live as normal a life as I can. Walk into my hospital room 4 years ago and ask me where I’d be today. I can promise I never thought life could be so good again. I roomed with kids who spent months in the hospital recovering from this or that difficulty and people who will never walk again wheeled in and out for chemotherapy. Many kids never made it out of the hospital.

I owe my life to the generosity of the amazing people around me. The kind people of my community who helped my family afford my medical bills, my friends who stopped by and helped me cope, and my parents who were with me every step of the way. My mom set up a website for me on Caring Bridge that let everyone send me messages of encouragement, and the overwhelming support that I received from my community made me feel that I was never alone. I was lucky enough to be treated at one of the best cancer centers in the world, and I don’t doubt that without the help of those fantastic doctors I would be living a very different life. I am only alive because of the friends and connections of my family and community, I couldn’t fly to Houston to receive treatment on a commercial airline because of how beat my immune system was, so a family friend let me fly in their jet to and from Texas for my surgery. I have so many people to thank for my life today that I could spend all day reciting names. Instead, let me just thank everyone who helped, whether it be a donating to cancer research, bringing meals to my family, or even just calling me on the phone.