Ryan Hurley’s Journey Back To The Field
At first glance all you see is a joyous little girl, sure her hair might be shorter than the other girls, but her smile all but makes up for it. Just happy to be back on the soccer field, Ryan “Ry” Hurley, 11, lived a turbulent lifestyle for 10 months as she went through months of chemo, radiation, scans and hospital stays as she battled Ewing Sarcoma, a type of bone cancer which affects around 200 youth and young adults each year in the United States.
In the summer of 2017, Ryan started to experience some lower back pain which varied in severity. Thinking it might just be a minor soccer injury, Hurley’s parents, Chris and Colleen took her to an Orthopedic Surgeon who made an initial prognosis of slipped discs and prescribed a soft back brace to wear when she was in pain. Pain came and went during the coming months, but in March, the level started to intensify to the point where pain medication just wasn’t working. The Hurleys needed a second opinion.
An MRI, which some may think is a routine process, turned out to be incredibly painful as Ryan was not able to sit still through the scan due to the immense pain she experienced. From the images they were able to gather, they could tell that this was serious. A couple days later a sedated MRI was performed where the Neurooncologist saw a grapefruit sized soft tissue tumor on the base of Ryan’s spine.
“It went from 0-100 in no time,” said Hurley’s father, Chris. The next couple of steps included traveling to Gainesville to visit the UF Health Shands Hospital for biopsies of the tumor, bone marrow, and additional imaging. Still needing a true diagnosis, it initially was classified as a malignant tumor, which then turned into Ewing Sarcoma. The next 10 months would not be easy for the Hurleys, but reassurance came from the doctors as they were told that if they stay the course and follow the protocol, this could be cured.
According to the National Cancer Institute, Ewing Sarcoma is a type of tumor that forms in bone or soft tissue of the legs, arms, feet, hands, chest, pelvis, spine, skull or neck. Commonly mistaken for a sports injury, signs and symptoms of Ewing include swelling and pain near the tumor. While most common in adolescence and teens, adults can be diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma as well. While the exact cause of Ewing Sarcoma isn’t clear, it can be related to non-inherited changes in specific genes that occur during a person’s lifetime.
At the onset, the Hurleys thought surgery would be the best case, but the location of the tumor would provide some complications. Chemo and Proton Radiation, along with some in home injections to help with recovery, would turn out to be the protocol that Ryan and her family would follow for the next nine months. 14 rounds of chemo, with 31 treatments of proton radiation starting after the sixth round, became the roadmap that the doctors believed would eradicate the tumor. Chemo and radiation would not be an easy feat to get through as hospital stays ranged from three days to a week. Treatment sometimes wouldn’t even be able to start if Ryan’s body didn’t have the proper hemoglobin, platelet and white blood cell counts. An eight to nine month course of therapy could easily have turned into over a year.
Good news came after the sixth round of chemo as new imaging found the tumor had shrunk dramatically. It was then that proton radiation came into play which consisted of 31 treatments over a six-week period. Radiation required a daily hospital visit which could turn into an all-day affair as platelet and blood transfusions had to be administered carefully. Chemo would finish around the beginning of December where scans showed a small nodule in the chest area but a follow up scan 6 weeks later showed that was clear as well. Ryan at that point was declared NED (No Evidence of Disease).
During her hospital visits, a combination of school and soccer became motivating factors for Ryan. Rejoining her FKK club team and playing soccer with her friends was the one thing she missed the most while undergoing her treatments. It would be a couple more months before Ryan with help from the Club would be able to fully return to the soccer field. The Hurleys have a son as well, Finn, who also plays for FKK. For the family, soccer was their life throughout the week and on the weekends, traveling to different fields as Ryan would be at one place and Finn at another. With Ryan in the hospital, “other parents on Finn’s team would step up and transport him where he needed to go.” Chris said. “It would have been impossible without all of their support.”
Now Ryan plays for the 2008 Krush NPL team, hoping to one day get back up to the top team. While the future is still uncertain, Ryan will now undergo quarterly scans for the next two years, followed by a scan every six months, and eventually once a year. At least now, she can spend her days on a soccer field, instead of in a hospital.
Each year, September serves as Childhood Cancer Awareness month raising awareness and funding for a cancer that is the number one leading cause of death by disease in children under 15 in the US. It’s reported that two-thirds of childhood cancer survivors will have long lasting chronic conditions from treatment. A simple message using the #KickChildhoodCancer on social media channels allows Major League Soccer (MLS) to donate $1 to the Children’s Oncology Group Foundation whose research efforts covers the entire spectrum of pediatric cancers.