Sunday, August 2, 2009

Celebration of life..and an epiphany

So, I know I haven't blogged for a while and I apologize. Lots of things going on with work, Riley, life, christenings, family, etc.. and I finally have a free second where I am not begging for sleep..not yet anyway(grin).

Eight years ago today, I lost my good friend, Ryan Gascoyne, to Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma. Ryan was such an amazing guy. If you look "cut up" in the dictionary, you will see a picture of Ryan. I know that term is aging me, but that is the best way to describe this guy. You could be having the shittiest day in the world and Ryan would make you laugh. Ryan was our comedian, even if the jokes were not funny 100% of the time. That was the beauty of Ryan; he had endless jokes and would do whatever it took to make someone laugh. Either way, funny joke or not, you would be laughing your ass off. He just had a way of making people happy, truly a gift. He also had this amazing smile. He and I would ride the pine in High School basketball and goof off all game. I was the first joker off the bench, so he spent more time on the pine than I did, but damn if he wasn't the first one to make us laugh in the locker room or even during foul shots. We were the drama crew. The actors who were on the basketball team. It was he, Shawn Adair, and myself.

I know it sounds cliched, but I have always believed that everything happens for a reason, even if at the time it does not make sense. Lord knows, when Ryan was diagnosed with cancer, I couldn't figure it out. Our graduating class had 23 or 24 people. What are the odds that two of us would have Non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma? Knowing the facts now..I would say what are the odds that only two of us had cancer.

Ryan's passing rocked my world. I was in shock. I didn't know what to do or how to react. I felt this tremendous burden. I realize now that I had not dealt with my own survivorship issues. I was a mess. I felt guilty that I beat cancer and Ryan had not.

You see, even though I was cancer free, I had never really talked about it. I know that is hard to imagine now, but it's the truth. I was never comfortable talking about my experience. I know that sounds crazy, but before Ryan's passing, the National Institutes of Health (where I was treated) had asked me to come back and talk to some kids battling cancer. I did it once...I could not go back. It's hard to explain, but at the time I felt tremendous guilt. I felt guilty that I was healthy and they were sick; I would have given anything to trade places with them, to take away their pain, but I couldn't even talk to them about my experience. I think in some way I hadn't dealt with the mental aspect of my own fight. I was so focused on just beating the cancer, that once it was never really hit me. There is no handbook for life after cancer and everyone deals with it differently. I was 18 years old and tried to return to a normal college life. Also, there was no Lance Armstrong back then; meaning nobody really publicly spoke about cancer, it was taboo, still the big C. I now realize that all those kids needed was some hope, to see that there was life after cancer.

After the Irish wake (we all got wasted and celebrated Ryan's life, just the way he would have wanted it), I remember hanging at Shawn's house and chatting with a few friends...I made a vow right then and there that I was going to do something for Ryan. I never knew how that declaration would change my life. I decided to raise money in memory of Ryan for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. How was I going to do it? I chose the biggest challenge of my life, a century bike ride through the mountains around Lake Tahoe. So, in 2002, I raised over $7,000 in memory of Ryan. I remember coming down the final hill in Tahoe and pulling over to the side of the road, just crying my eyeballs out. I couldn't stop crying. They were tears of joy and tears of sadness. I was happy to be alive and to have finished, but sad that Ryan had lost his battle. I think this was my epiphany. I realized that I had the "obligation of the cured". It took me over 6 years to figure this out. I'm not really sure I would have figured it out were it not for Ryan.

Ryan and Aunt Joan have been and always will be the fuel to my fire. I will continue my crusade until no friends or families have to deal with the loss of a loved one. I lean on Ryan and Joan to this day. Even as a survivor myself, I occasionally sweat the small stuff, but it is then that I think about them. We have to live each and every day as if it were our last. I ride for Ryan and Aunt Joan.

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  1. Oh Joe, I love reading your blogs..I can feel the passion, so well written. Ryan and Joan are smiling down on you. Livestrong

  2. bravo joe. Ryan sounds like he was an amazing guy. Verry funny. luv ur passion. keep up the good work.

  3. i recently found this blog through Kairol Rosenthal's blog... i'm so sorry about the loss of your friend.

    i was diagnosed with hodgkin's in late may, but this isn't the first cancer my family has dealt with (my mom had breast cancer, and my little brother had both ewing's and osteosarcoma)

    Livestrong was so fantastic for my little brother when he had cancer - he was 8 & 12, and it was great to have such a visible role model for him to follow!

    Your blog is very moving, and I'm going to keep enjoying reading it! I've been blogging since my diagnosis, and I'm thrilled to find so many others doing the same. Congratulations on your 15 years!