At the end of my last post (if you made it that far) I mentioned another young ultimate frisbee player battling cancer, named Ryan. In the two days that passed since I publish that post, Ryan deteriorated rapidly. I wrote the following post this evening on facebook and was encouraged to share it in my blog.
I didn’t know Ryan personally but I came across his blog one day while I was browsing facebook on my way home from my own infusion at MGH in early November. I remember I spent the rest of the day reading (laugh/crying rather) through his blog instead of doing homework. We shared similar beginnings to our story: Ryan was initially healthy, athletic, young…an ultimate frisbee player from New York. We were both thrown a curveball in the form of a late stage cancer diagnosis while we were in the prime of our lives. Unfortunately, Ryan was at Stage IV colorectal cancer when he was diagnosed. Since my diagnosis (stage IIIb melanoma) I have been yearning to connect to someone my age going through a similar experience. I wanted to email him and be like, “Hey I play ultimate and have cancer too! Lets be friends!” I didn’t send the email. I thought about all the people who had emailed me that I had not yet responded to. It was something I struggled with and didn’t want to be that for Ryan. I also knew his time was probably more limited than mine. In retrospect, I should have emailed him anyway because ultimately I’ve felt it’s great to hear from people even if I don’t get a chance to respond.
After my infusions ended/side effects dissipated I was trying desperately to get back to normal life. I forgot about Ryan’s blog until recently when it popped up on facebook again. I read the updates saying Ryan essentially was out of treatment options. This broke my heart. Part of me was confused about how emotional I was getting over someone I had never met. Ryan probably never knew I existed, but just reading his blog I felt we had bonded in our unfortunate shared experience of being a young person strapped into the monster cancer roller coaster against our will. Ryan was experiencing my worst nightmare.
I decided to donate the money I had left over from the fundraiser my TEAMmates held for me. Ryan and Clover (his new wife) clearly needed it more than me and donating it to them felt so right and eased that sense of helplessness that was overwhelming me. I made the donation on Wednesday. Yesterday Ryan was moved to hospice, and this morning I woke up to a text from a mutual friend saying that Ryan had passed away. My heart aches for Ryan’s friends and family. It’s just unfair, horrible, and devastating.
Even worse is that [To quote a blog post by one of Ryan’s friends (“Feetch”)]: “when you’re diagnosed with cancer, nobody will give you life insurance. This often means that the people you leave behind are stuck with bills while in mourning. Any of the money raised here that can’t be used for Ryan’s bucket list, will be saved for future use towards a memorial, FUNeral, burial, and all the stuff that sucks about cancer. It sucks enough to watch a loved one suffer, but to then have the added stress of trying to pay for those services while mourning, would be terrible.”
Let’s try to make things less terrible and consider donating to alleviate the huge financial burden: https://www.youcaring.com/ryan-west-450543
I’ll continue fighting for you Ryan. #FuckCancer #RyFight
Lege is way better than I am at articulating things we both are feeling. I asked him to add his thoughts here:
Schwam shared Ryan’s story with me since the beginning, and in the last few days she kept me up to date. At the same time, the condition of another young woman she was following also deteriorated. We arm ourselves, even in Schwam’s current “healthy” state, with reassuring mental defenses like “She’s young” and “She’s strong.” These recent developments take a big swipe at those comforts. We are feeling many things: how lucky Schwam is, how unlucky Schwam is, how much pain these other families must be in, how uncertain the future is. I’m most proud of Schwam for letting these feelings out, and for letting me let them out. You HAVE to let them out, AND you don’t necessarily get to choose when they come out. But whatever you can do to open up to the grief and fear when they come through, do it. There’s been a lot of crying over here, but I’m happy there are two of us.