It was August of 2004 and 15-year-old Megan Ryan was taking a walk on a Florida beach. She felt unusual pain in her right leg.
Megan’s brother, Sean, is a football and baseball player who twice suffered torn anterior cruciate ligaments, commonly known as ACLs. Megan’s family thought her pain was caused by a similar injury, especially given her history as a track runner. However, they were wrong.
“Cancer was the furthest thing from my mind,” said Darcy Ryan, Megan’s mother. The orthopedic the Ryans went to for Sean’s injuries diagnosed Megan with cancer. Her mother wanted a second opinion and got the one she did not want to hear. The orthopedic specialist’s diagnosis was confirmed. Megan was suffering from osteosarcoma, a bone cancer most frequently found in the bones around the knee.
“It was quite a shock when she was first diagnosed,” said Darcy Ryan. She said the family spent the next five days searching the Internet, learning everything there was to know about the cancer threatening to take away Megan's life.
More than a year later, Megan is cancer free. Her determination in the face of adversity was recently rewarded. She was named the latest recipient of the national Annual Achievement Award from the Club Z! Tutoring Services. Neal Hanrahan, an area director with Club Z, said Megan was awarded because she demonstrated to herself, and everyone around her, her disease would not keep her from living a normal life; as normal as possible.
THE DOCTORS told the Ryans they were in a fight for her life, and the process would take about a year. They were right.
Megan entered sophomore year of high school replacing the classrooms of Stone Bridge High School with her house. Her after-school activities no longer involved track, but rather a grueling regime of chemotherapy and physical therapy. “They would kill you and bring you back just enough to kill you again,” said Megan of her chemotherapy. Doctors at Johns Hopkins University Hospital also operated on Megan, replacing her knee and femur.
For a year Megan’s days were as follows. She would wake up and decide whether she was feeling good enough to have her homebound instructor come and teach her. If so, she would spend the day learning as much as possible and taking a nap afterward. After the nap, she would head to one of her medical appointments. On some days it was chemotherapy, on others it was physical therapy. At Thanksgiving she had a knee and femur replacement. Her Sweet 16 birthday was spent in a hospital hooked up to a respirator. She had an infection in her bloodstream and caught pneumonia on top of that, causing a two-week stay in an intensive care unit.
Megan’s suffering was not only physical. “I’m a very social person,” she said. Replacing the classroom environment did not suit Megan’s life style. Although her friends often visited her, it was not the same as being at school.
Throughout her ordeal, Megan and her family stayed positive. “We never had any other thoughts but 'she was gonna make it,’” said Darcy Ryan. “She was so brave,” she said. The family tried to keep things normal, she added. Megan went to Sean’s football and baseball games and to a prom, said her mother.
“SHE WENT through a lot,” said Allison Alison, a U.S. history and government teacher at Stone Bridge. Alison said she was so impressed to see Megan in the stands cheering her brother on while going through all of her suffering. Tim Lucas, the guidance director at Stone Bridge, said Megan not only managed to get through her sophomore year despite all the hardships she had to endure, but she managed to get through it with straight As. In the fall Megan returned to Stone Bridge as a full time student.
Because Megan dealt with her adversity in such a positive manner, Alison, Lucas and another U.S. history teacher, Andy Skinner, nominated her without her knowledge for the award. The Annual Achievement Award is given once in the fall and once in the spring. The winner receives $2,000 from Club Z, without any requirements regulating how to spend it. Megan said she was in a computer lab when she was informed of the award. It was during Skinner’s class, and Alison and Lucas entered the lab to announce it to her. “I thought, ‘Well this is going to be a good day,’” she said.
“There is nobody more deserving,” said Lucas. “She truly is my hero,” he said. Alison said she decided to nominate Megan even though she never had her as a student, however, she had taught Sean Ryan. She said he would often have to leave her class to go home and help his sister and mom. Sean Ryan was a senior then, but now attends Virginia Tech University on a baseball scholarship. Alison said she was impressed to see a girl come back to school after a year out and be so vivacious. “She is an inspiration for us all,” said Alison.
HANRAHAN said Megan not only overcame obstacles, but also made school more enjoyable for everyone. He said there was no doubt in his mind Megan would be one of the top vote-getters for the award when her nomination was read.
Megan said she learned not to take life for granted. “Don’t worry about the small things, because they are just not that important,” she said.
She said she could not have gone through her ordeal without the help of her family, teachers, friends, administrators and her boyfriend of two and a half years, David Ball, a senior at Stone Bridge. She said he stuck with her through her ordeal. “He is a keeper,” she said. As for the teachers and administrators, Megan said, “I can’t stress enough how great they are. They went far and beyond a normal relationship between a student and the administration.”
Darcy Ryan also had words of praise for everyone who helped the family through the hard times. She said Lucas and others in Stone Bridge helped a single mother send a son to college while helping the daughter battle cancer. She said her lesson from her daughter’s ordeal is that positive attitude can really make a difference.
In two weeks Megan will be turning 17 years old. Despite her suffering and all of the time she spent in the hospital, she said her favorite television show is Grey’s Anatomy. She said she cannot run or jump, which makes it hard to exercise, but using a bike allows her to get some exercise in. She said she would put the $2,000 she won toward her college education, although she has not yet decided which college she would like to go to. As far as all the praise she receives for her positive attitude throughout her ordeal, she said, “I did what I had to do.”