Yesterday we spent the day at a Relay for Life training event. At the close of the day, I was invited to share why I relay. With a giant picture of Ryan behind me, this is what I said:
That face is why I relay. That is my son Ryan.
On Feb 19, 1993 at 7:02 am Ryan was born and I watched him take his first breath. 16 years, 7 hours and 17 minutes later, while I laid next to him on his bed and held his hand, I watched him take his last breath. Those 2 dates are like bookends on the life of an incredible young man. Ryan was, is and will always be my hero. He was loving, kind, and considerate. He worried more about others than himself. He was smart and had a wonderful sense of humor. He loved music, football and computer games. Through his love of football and the USC Trojans, he met and became friends with many of the players and coaches. He worshiped God and loved his family and friends.
Ryan had cancer, but cancer did not have Ryan.
Cancer entered our family in July of 1999. We were a very typical family. 2 kids, 2 cars and a house. Our biggest concerns were our mortgage, saving for college and what Y2K was going to do to our computer. We were living in Washington DC at the time and decided to face the 104 degree day and go downtown to watch the Independence day fireworks on the mall. Us and 1.2 million other people! I was told the fireworks were amazing. I don’t remember them. What I remember is watching the faces of my children watching the display. I sat in the unbearable heat, staring at their faces, and thought about how lucky I was. Little did I know that a few days later, my world would crumble around me.
On July 8th, Ryan started complaining about his left hand. He said is hand was “loose” and he couldn’t hold anything in it. I took him to the Dr., who in turn sent us to the hospital for x-rays. We had been in a minor car accident and we all assumed that he had just hurt his shoulder. 26 hours later, Ryan was having surgery to remove a malignant brain tumor. For the next 9 ½ years, cancer was an unwelcome guest in our home.
Over the course of those 9 and a half years, Ryan endured 4 brain surgeries, 60 rounds of radiation, 18 months of experimental chemo, 4 months of an experimental drug, and a decade worth of doctor’s appointments. Never once did we hear Ryan say “Why me? Why do I have to go through this?” Was he disappointed he had cancer, you bet. Was he going to let it stand in his way of enjoying life to the fullest, no way! Instead he wanted to take his story and raise money so he could help others. Throughout his life he carried the motto of the USC Trojans “Fight On”
One of the many things that I am so proud of was the way my son always put others first. This was never so true than in the fall of 2008 when he found out that there was nothing further the doctors could do for him. Ryan didn’t give in but instead he changed his goal. Instead of fighting just for his own survival, he chose to fight on so that no other person, no other child, would have to go through this disease. It was on the way home from the hospital that day that Ryan told us that he wanted to raise the most money ever for Relay for life, to help find a cure. Think about this, finding out that you only have a few months to live but quickly thinking of others first. People quickly chipped in…friends, family, neighbors, former classmates, teachers, coaches, players and fans of USC, and many others from all over the country. In the end, he spent the last two months of his life trying to help others. Thanks to the generosity of so many across the country Ryan raised over $52,000 for cancer research. It’s amazing! He received national recognition from the American Cancer Society and ended up being the #1 fundraiser in the Midwest, and #3 nationally out of more than 2 million individual participants. In only 4 short years of doing Relay For Life Ryan raised over $90,000 to raise money for research and to fight back against cancer. I tell you this because I am of course proud, but also because I want to remind you that one person can make a difference. Every dollar does count.
Were Ryan still with us today he would want you all to know three things:
First Thank you so much for all that you are doing and will continue to do to raise money for cancer research. Because of you one day there will be a cure for cancer!
Second ENJOY the time you are given with your friends and family, be thankful for your time together, and enjoy the little moments in life. Each and every day is a blessing so be sure to chase your dreams and be the person you aspire to be.
And third he would want you to know that medicine did not fail him. Instead, he would say that it gave him a fighting chance, it gave him an extra 9 years. And he would want you to know that we need to keep fighting to find a cure. He would fight for research to continue to give the next child a better chance, and the child after that an even better chance. Don’t stop fighting UNTIL THERE IS A CURE!!
In the final public speech that Ryan delivered in New York City the summer of 2008 Ryan said, “We all have our struggles. Some life threatening, some you face every day. No matter what, we all need to ‘Fight On!’ ”
Tonight like every night, my prayer will be that tomorrow we find a cure. I know we are close. That next dollar may be the one that does it! I encourage all of you to Fight On and Fight Back until we are rid of this horrible disease. May we feel the presence of our friends and loved ones that we’ve lost to cancer and feel their encouragement to keep us fighting for a cure. Because of Ryan I will fight back!
Trust me, in the end Ryan was victorious, and we will win, too!