My name is Ryan, I am from Paradise, NL, and I am currently a grade 10 student in high school. In February of 2018, a few months before I turned 13, I was diagnosed with Stage IV Burkitt's Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma.
For those of you not familiar with Burkitts, it is one of the fastest growing cancers with the cancer cells dividing in just 24-48hrs. This diagnosis seemed to come out of nowhere. Two weeks prior to my diagnosis my family and I were on vacation in Florida with no idea how much things were about to change. A week before I was admitted to hospital I started to complain to my mom about back pain that was keeping me awake at night. We assumed it was a muscle issue and my mom gave me pain meds. After a few days with no improvement my mom took me to the doctor. He didn't seem overly concerned and thought as well it could be muscular and referred me to a massage therapist. The next day I also starting having some pins and needles in my feet, so my mom brought me to the hospital. At the Janeway, they did blood work, an xray, and an exam. You could tell the doctor was somewhat concerned as some of my blood work was abnormal, but it did not point to anything specific. They sent me home with some stronger pain meds and told me if things did not improve to come back again. Two days later my pain had increased and my mom took me back to the hospital. My dad was working offshore at the time so we were just filling him in all week on what was happening. They did more tests and late that night they admitted me and started me on morphine for the pain. They decided to do an MRI the next day. By the next morning, the tingling that had started in my feet was now up to my stomach. Due to the pain I was unable to lay flat, so they put me under anesthesia so that they could complete the MRI.
After they completed the MRI a nurse came out to tell my mom that the neurosurgeon would be coming to see her shortly to take me for emergency surgery. There was a large tumour wrapped around and compressing my spinal cord. My dad was trying to get home, but due to the typical Newfoundland weather he was stuck offshore for two more days. In the meantime, they completed my surgery, where they were able to remove 90% of the tumor and moved me to ICU for observation and to start the testing for my cancer diagnosis as the surgeon believed the tumor to be lymphoma. After many tests, the stage, locations, and type of cancer was determined. A few days after my spinal surgery my Hickman Catheter was placed and my chemo started that very day. My first admission to hospital was three weeks and I spent the majority of six months admitted to hospital, for both treatments and complications resulting from those treatments.
From the very beginning I told the doctors and my parents that I wanted everything about my cancer and my treatment to be discussed in front of me. It was my cancer and I wanted to know everything - even though I was only 12 my parents agreed. The oncology nurse told us at the very beginning that this cancer was curable, I would get through the treatment, and this would be a small bump in my very long life. I tried to stay positive as there were other oncology families around us whose outcomes were not as hopeful as ours. I had to learn to walk again after my surgery and had many serious setbacks throughout treatment but I did it.
Today, you would never know by looking at me how sick I once was. I am doing well in school, I am back in sports, and riding my dirt bike. All of the things I could do before, I can now do again.
I support Light the Night and The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada and am honoured to be this year's Honoured Hero for Newfoundland & Labrador. The LLSC provides a community for those with blood cancer who understand what I have been through. Advances in research is the reason that I am still here today and there is much more work to do to improve outcomes and reduce the side effects from treatments. Thank you LLSC for the work that you do.