Behind every soldier there is a family who makes sacrifices so their spouse, father or mother can serve our great country. Ryan’s family is one such family. Even in the shadow of pain and adversity, they are giving back to our nation. Not only are our military members brave, but so are their families…
Ryan’s Battle Buddies: “We are soldiers of cancer. Instead of a Purple Heart, we wear a Golden Ribbon”
We all know about Pediatric Cancer. It’s what we’ve devoted our lives to because of some circumstance that landed in our lap or was shoved into our life. But, have you ever thought of what it is like for a military family in a foreign land – far away from family and friends – to hear the words “Your child has cancer?”
It happens. It happened to our son, Ryan. I would like to share his story and why we have started a nonprofit foundation, Ryan’s Battle Buddies, to help military children and their families affected by pediatric cancer.
Ryan’s story starts as most do. His began with a headache four days into kindergarten. The post we were stationed at only had a clinic, so we were sent off-post to a German Hospital for further tests. Those tests revealed Ryan had AML, Acute Myeloid Leukemia.
My son was five years old and he had cancer.
Ryan and I had to leave Germany as soon as possible and return to American soil to start treatment. We had four days in which to accomplish this. In that time Ryan had to say goodbye to his friends, his sisters, his dad, and the home he had known for two years. We had no idea where we were going; how things were going to work out; how long it would take for my husband to get orders; how and when our car and household goods would be shipped; and how long our family would remain separated until the military side of things could be taken care of.
When Ryan and I boarded a C17 Wounded Warriors flight from Landstuhl to Andrews Air Force base in Maryland, I had no idea where we were going and what was going to happen. I was terrified. I spent the nine and a half hour flight explaining to him why there were wounded Soldiers on the plane and trying to assure him that everything would be okay.
After arriving at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, the stress continued. I had no cell phone – no way to contact my husband and let him know we were safe or even where we were. After several hours, he figured out a way to get in touch with me and I was finally able to talk to him and tell him Ryan would begin his treatment the following week.
It took a month for my husband to finally arrive with our daughters. In that time, Ryan went through one PICU stay and his first round of chemo. I stayed by his side and had no idea what was outside the walls of the hospital. I had to figure out how to accomplish things like doing laundry without leaving the hospital. I was scared, lost, and alone.
Once our family was reunited, we began an expensive waiting game. We had to wait a month until a home was available on post where my husband had been stationed. We had no car as ours was being shipped from Germany. We had a cat and dog and had to rely on strangers to care for our animals while we tried to locate a hotel that would allow pets. After a month in a hotel, a transfer for the girls to a new school, and Ryan finally being able to come home, we had spent over $7000 on hotel expenses, new school supplies, and restocking our food and household supplies.
And on top of all of this, we STILL had a child with cancer.
The expenses continued to add up during his year of treatment. We were stationed about an hour from where Ryan received his treatments. We would “switch out” so we could see our daughters at least every 3-5 days, so gas back and forth from the hospital became an added expense. Also, Ryan’s type of cancer and treatment protocol required him to live in the hospital for months at a time, so meal costs added up as well.
Ryan relapsed five short weeks after being in full remission from his four intense rounds of chemo. He was moved to Children’s National Medical Center in DC to have a bone marrow transplant. He received another three rounds of extremely harsh chemo with no time for his counts to recover and one week of cranial radiation. He also had one week of twice a day full body radiation.
We said goodbye to Ryan August 11, 2012, two days before his sixth birthday and five days before his bone marrow transplant.
We will never recover from this.
The idea behind our foundation stems from a military tradition. A “battle buddy” is expected to assist their partner both in and out of combat. These battle buddies watch each other’s backs and are always there for each other. Our hope is that Ryan’s Battle Buddies will be able to help military children and their families affected by pediatric cancer.
We want each of these children and families to have their very own special battle buddy. We’d like to have financial assistance available and a plan in place for families like ours who have to pack up and leave wherever they may be on such short notice. We would also like to send out care packages, called “battle boxes”, to military children all over the United States who are battling cancer. If we can help other military families affected by pediatric cancer, perhaps we can lessen the burden and challenges we went through. It will also give us a chance to share Ryan’s story so he will never be forgotten.
Author: Mikelle Gallier Raffel