The Team Ryan Charitable Foundation for Pediatric Cancer Research was founded to honor Ryan Christian, whose short life touched so many, and whose courage inspired us all. Ryan was a beautiful soul who adored figure skating, playing soccer and basketball, swimming, and chasing various bugs and lizards in her backyard. She was tough as nails, but enjoyed parading around the house in her princess costumes and playing in Mommy’s makeup. She loved riding in her Daddy’s Skylark, painting pictures, making cards for friends and watching movies. She was a brilliant, happy and caring little girl, with long, strawberry blonde curls.
In February 2010, at the age of eight, after suffering a seizure, Ryan was diagnosed with a rare adrenal cancer called Pediatric Adrenal Cortical Carcinoma (“ACC”). While childhood cancers are rare, Ryan’s cancer was the very rarest, occurring in just one in three million children. Each year in the United States, only approximately 20 children are diagnosed with ACC. To make matters worse, while there are treatments to prolong life, there is no known cure for this disease when it is discovered in its advanced stages. Ryan was diagnosed at Stage IV, with metastases on her liver and lungs.
Ryan had extensive surgery in Kansas City, Missouri, to remove the large tumor from her adrenal gland and resect the metastases from her liver. Wanting the most cutting-edge care for their daughter, Ryan’s parents took her to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, where doctors and scientists actively research the disease, where the treatment protocol for ACC was developed, and where the a tumor registry to study the disease is actively maintained. Ryan underwent eight intensive rounds of chemotherapy at St. Jude, spending five days out of every 28 in the hospital, and additional time in the hospital when she contracted fevers and infections. Her weight plummeted to less than 50 pounds as she endured constant nausea and lack of appetite. Ryan’s family moved to St. Jude family housing for months, making their sole priority the care of their little fighter.
After seven months of treatment, doctors were ecstatic to declare that Ryan’s scans showed no evidence of disease! For nine months, the family celebrated. Ryan returned to school and soccer and skating. The family went on a wonderful Make-a-Wish trip to Disney World and traveled the country, making up for so much lost time. Ryan declared that she felt better than ever. She was a normal kid again, even though everyone held their collective breath and hoped the cancer would never return. Scans every three months were so very nerve-wracking.
Sadly, after nine months of cancer-free living, and just when everyone began to exhale, there were some “spots”. They were very small, but they were in Ryan’s lungs, and a biopsy quickly revealed that the cancer had returned. The difficulty of ACC is that there is no known cure for the disease once it returns. The tumors are stronger and the disease is more aggressive. Ryan endured four surgeries to her lungs, an embolization of her liver, and more pokes than any little girl deserves. She tried four different treatment protocols, including two clinical trials. Unfortunately, after three years of fighting, at the age of eleven, Ryan’s fight ended on January 24, 2013. She fought until the end. She was strong, and she was so very loved.
Ryan’s life revolved around giving and helping others, although she herself was enduring so much. She was so selfless and caring and willing to give before receiving. She loved playing soccer, and she was the first person to congratulate a teammate on any accomplishment or milestone. She loved her friends and family, and would do anything for them.
Ryan’s family and friends have struggled in her absence to develop a way to appropriately honor her. In time, however, we began to realize that we were all really part of her big HUGE team! ALL OF US! We cheered for her and supported her, from near and far, just as she loved and supported us. If Ryan were here, she would wish that no other child would be forced to endure her journey. Although she never complained, she suffered, she felt pain, and she was robbed of a normal childhood.
In Ryan’s honor and memory, therefore, we created this foundation on November 26, 2012. We have 501(c)(3) tax exempt status. In short, we will call ourselves “Team Ryan”. Team Ryan was founded to fund pediatric cancer research and care for children like Ryan and families like Ryan’s. We ask that you join us in this battle, and join our team. When sports teams gather before or after games, they put their hands in the huddle to symbolize a common battle. What better battle than pediatric cancer? Please join us. HANDS IN!!!