Ryan has an idyllic life. He and his wife Courtney have three wonderful children. They live on a seven-acre farm in a postcard setting.
All was right with the world for the Ryan and his family until one terrifying day in October 2014. A burning sensation in his stomach gave Ryan cause to see his gastroenterologist. An ultrasound revealed a mass about the size of a small football. A biopsy confirmed that it was in fact a GIST tumor – a Stage 4 cancerous growth outside the stomach lining.
“The first thing that came to my mind was my family,” says Ryan. “I was always the breadwinner – the go-to guy. I rarely ask for help. Now I had to go from being the supporter to the supportee.”
And of course, the hardest part was how to explain it all to the kids. Their dad, who could do anything for anyone and who was always there for them, was in need of some very serious help.
Ryan credits Dr. Michael Lipcan, his gastroenterologist, for what happened next. Through Dr. Lipcan, Ryan was introduced to Dr. Charles Cha, a gastrointestinal surgeon at Smilow Cancer Hospital. At their initial consultation, Dr. Cha explained clearly and reassuringly the entire plan of action. That happened on a Thursday and, due to a fortunate cancellation, Ryan was scheduled for surgery the following Monday.
It was a huge load off Ryan’s mind to know that in just a couple of days, this life-threatening growth would be gone. But that afternoon, the burning pain started up again. This time it was extreme. Ryan’s wife rushed him to the ER and Dr. Cha was called. And at midnight that night, just hours after his initial consultation, Ryan had the surgery that he knew would save his life.
The results were all that Ryan could have hoped for. The entire tumor was removed. His margins were clear. He was cancer free. Now it was time to get back to his life. But with the cancer behind him and with immense gratitude for all that Dr. Lipcan, Dr. Cha and the Smilow team had done for him, Ryan was also looking to do something more.
“Seeing that first bike ride out and being part of that whole wave of people leaving the Yale Bowl together for a common cause, I thought, this is where I want to be.”
It was in the spring of 2015 that a friend mentioned that he had signed up for the hundred-mile leg of the Closer to Free Ride with the Carl’s Crusaders team and what a great cause it was for cancer awareness and prevention. Ryan thought of all those people at Smilow who are themselves fighting the same battle he recently went through. “Biking was a positive way I could use my energy to start giving back,” says Ryan. He decided to sign up with Carl’s Crusaders and start his journey; he rode in the sixth annual Closer to Free Ride 100-mile leg, raising almost $10,000 for the event.
“Seeing that first bike ride out and being part of that whole wave of people leaving the Yale Bowl together for a common cause, I thought, this is where I want to be,” says Ryan. That day, he remembers feeling as if he was being introduced to a whole new family. A family of survivors. And that sense of support extended beyond the ride itself to everyone at Smilow who touched his life. On September 10, 2016, Ryan participated in his second 100-mile ride in the seventh annual Closer to Free Ride. His wife Courtney and oldest son Charlie rode the 10-mile leg.
As for his own family, Ryan is back to being the go-to guy for them and many others. He sees the little things from a whole new perspective now – watching his kids get off the bus or camping in the backyard. He’s become a passionate rider for Smilow and other cancer-related causes. He looks at each event as a challenge, but also as a chance to give something to that greater family he’s now part of.