I don’t want to write a morbid post, but I said I was going to discuss my experience with childhood cancer, and September is the best time to do it. Everyone knows October is Breast Cancer awareness month, so I think everyone should know that September is Childhood Cancer awareness month. I’ve heard the saying “cancer does not have a face until it’s yours or someone you love”, and for most that’s probably true. And I pray that someday no one will ever have to battle with cancer again.
So, anyone that knows me or follows me on social media is aware that my cousin, Ryan, lost his battle with childhood cancer in 2009. He was almost 8 years old.. he would have been 16 this year. He was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma at age 2 (60% of childhood cancers are diagnosed before age 5), which is a bone cancer. It has a 5-year survival rate. His leg was amputated only a year later. Do not think that Ryan let having one leg stop him from being a kid, because that’s far from the truth. Ryan wrestled, Ryan played soccer, and Ryan loved to race to show everyone how fast he was on his crutches. And let me tell you, it was a sight to see. It was amazing what that kid could do on those crutches.
I do not know the ins and outs of what Ryan and his parents faced on a daily basis between hospital visits, treatments, and all the scary stuff. I was young and naive and either didn’t know, or didn’t want to know. I just remember his huge blue eyes light up when my sister walked in the room (because I can admit, she was his favorite). I remember hating what he looked like throughout his chemo treatments, and I regret avoiding it. If I could change one thing, it would be the amount of time I spent with him.
As we all know, Cancer is stubborn and doesn’t always end when treatment does. Despite the amputation, Ryan’s cancer spread. It eventually took him on Memorial Day of 2009. Even though I knew this was coming, it hit me like a ton of bricks. It was my first experience with death, let alone of someone who only experienced 7 years of life. His laughter could make your heart melt, but his strength could make a grown person cry. Ryan cared about others, especially his family, more than any 7 year old I’ve ever seen. Even though we knew he was in unimaginable pain, he would make sure we had tissues just for our cold. The strength and resiliency that boy, and his parents/brother, had taught me lessons at age 18. Biggest lesson: anything can happen to the ones you love. Call your loved ones, visit them, be involved. There is nothing more important on this earth than family and loved ones. Second lesson: don’t sweat the small stuff. I can’t even put into words how strong my aunt and uncle were through this horror. I admire them to this day. But I learned that maybe I shouldn’t freak out because my day didn’t go as planned, because there’s people out there who’s lives aren’t going as planned. Seeing a child fight cancer changed my life forever.
So, this is me spreading awareness not just about Ryan, but for all of those children and their families. The National Cancer Institute budget gives less than 5% to Childhood Cancer research, even though about 42 children are diagnosed with cancer a day. Last year – 2,000 kids lost their battle. Even if just for today, think about childhood cancer. Because kids get cancer too. You may choose to look the other way, but you can never again say you did not know.
Sometimes, real superheroes live in the hearts of small children fighting big battles.
RIP to my little hero, I love and miss you.