Remembering Ryan

Our son Ryan was almost two, when he was diagnosed with a brain stem cancer. This is the worst possible place for a tumour and it was inoperable. After meeting with his oncologist, Paul and I learned that Ryan had only weeks to live.

When you hear something like that, your world collapses. Nothing makes any sense. And you ask, “Why?” But there is no why. There are no answers.”

Ryan on treatment

Still holding out hope, we started Ryan on chemotherapy straight away. What followed were months of invasive cancer treatments and terrible side-effects for Ryan. The chemotherapy made him vomit over 20 times a day and the radiation caused seizures every day. The steroids made him balloon up and caused severe mood swings. Ryan was seen in more than 13 different clinics and none of them could really help him very much. Our son was dying and there wasn’t anything we could do about it.

It’s really difficult to watch your child go through all these treatments, but he was amazing. We were really proud of him. He didn’t complain about having needle pokes in his chest or the chemotherapy or anything. He was just there trying to make everyone else happy.

He was such a loving little boy and so smart. He was full of love and warmth and always saw the best in people.

During Ryan’s treatment, we were a family divided between hospital and home. I was at the hospital with Ryan four or five days a week. Paul and Matthew, our oldest son, were at home, trying to lead a normal life. After Matthew was finished school for the day and Paul was finished work, they would drive into Calgary from Canmore to see me and Ryan at the hospital most evenings.

Ryan was in a wheelchair for most of this time, so his life was limited. And there was nothing that Paul and I or his big brother Matthew could do to help him.

After months of aggressive treatments, our sweet little boy passed away at the age of three. No child or parent should ever have to experience this.

Then it’s just numbness for months. You’re in shock that you could lose your child – that he’s gone. He’s not there anymore. Over time, you may get a little better at hiding it and you may get a little more used to it, but life is so different and you’re not the same person anymore. You start imagining what life would be like if he was still alive. What would he look like? Would he still have the same infectious giggle? Would he still want to snuggle on the couch with us and watch dinosaur programs?

Paul and I discovered that you don’t only lose your child when this happens. You lose everything. Friends suddenly fall away. They start avoiding you at the grocery store or looking the other way at the playground. They are not being mean or spiteful. They’re just frightened. They don’t know what to say or do to ease your pain, so they turn away.

Ryan on his wish trip

After we lost Ryan, Kids Cancer Care was the only organization that stayed in touch with us. They continued to reach out and embrace our family. They welcomed us into their programs and connected us with other bereaved families. It is such an amazing comfort to know someone is there for you – someone who understands.

Kids Cancer Care now offers a Bereaved Family Camp. Knowing other bereaved families – and there are so many – has been huge for us! We can talk about anything together. Nothing is off limits. There are no awkward smiles or uncomfortable sighs – just an instant bond. We all just get it.

Our oldest son Matthew still goes to Camp Kindle every summer. He looks forward to it all year. Camp has done wonders for his confidence! He’s made a lot of friends and met a lot of counsellors there he can talk to. I don’t know what we would do without Kids Cancer Care.

Matthew is now 11 years old and we since had two more children: Charlotte is almost three years old and Edward is just 16 weeks old. We tell them that they have a beautiful big brother in heaven looking over them. Matthew shows Charlotte photographs of Ryan all the time and there isn’t a day that goes by that we don’t mention his name. Ryan is still and, will always be, a huge part of our lives.

~ Amanda Carrington

Our 2017 Father’s Day video features Ryan’s dad, Paul: