Hi – my name is Ryan Shimek. I am 12 years old and have a twin sister named Kaitlin. I have battled cancer. I was in the 2nd grade when it happened. I had just made the math bowl team and was playing baseball. I complained to my parents that my stomach kept hurting. My dad said it was probably just a stomach bug since I just started a new daycare. My mom and dad took me to the walk in clinic to see the doctor. We got x-rays. The doctor didn’t think anything was really wrong based on those x-rays. The next day, I was even sicker. My mom took me to Tampa General Hospital in Tampa, Florida (I used to live there). I had IV’s, some injections and a CT scan. I was pretty scared. My mom stayed in the CT scan room with me. She wore a big vest. I felt safe with my mom near me.
The pediatric surgeons came to see me. I was really scared when they said I would need surgery. I was crying and didn’t want to leave my mom. They wheeled me back into the surgery prep area and my mom, dad and sister came to hold my hand. Once they put the mask on my face I started getting sleepy. When I woke up my mom, dad and sister were there waiting for me. My grandma and pop-pop were in the surgery waiting area too.
I spent the next week or so in the hospital recovering. My family was with me the whole time. They sent lots of balloons and stuffed animals for my bed. I got to go to the kids play area at Tampa General Hospital.
The worst part was that my sister and I had a big 8th birthday planned at Game Works that had to be cancelled since I was in the hospital. I was really sad. So my mom, dad, sister, grandma and pop-pop brought all of the presents to my hospital room and a big cake!! We had a party in my room. Tampa General Hospital even had a birthday party for me in the kids play area.
My parents waited to tell me about cancer until after we celebrated our 8th birthday. I was diagnosed with Stage 2 Burkitt’s Lymphoma. I had all different kinds of feelings when they told me I had cancer. I was scared, but my dad told me I had to be a fighter and a soldier. The chemo was going to make me feel bad, but I needed to push through and I would feel much better when it was all done.
Tampa General Hospital sent us to St. Joseph’s Hospital (Tampa, Florida) to have more tests and to start my chemo right away. Some medicines made me feel very sick. I didn’t like those medicines. To cheer me up, my dad brought in the Wii to play with my mom. I beat her many times at Mario Kart – even though she thinks she won first place one time. My mom stayed with me all the time. My dad would come for lunch and after work with my sister. My grandma and pop-pop came all the time too. Sometimes my daddy or my sister would stay with me at night. My sister would buy me presents from the gift store at St. Joseph’s hospital.
While I was undergoing chemo, my immune system was really down. I ended up getting a staff infection one time and ecoli another time. Each time I had to check back in to the hospital for 10 more days of IV antibiotics. I was really sad to have to go back to the hospital for 10 more days each time. When I was feeling better, the doctors sometimes would let me have a day pass to sneak away for a few hours. My mom would take me to the movies or drive me around to see the sunlight or go home and check on my room.
I am very lucky that some strong kids ahead of me participated in research studies so that my cancer treatment would be so good. I am lucky that we found my cancer at stage 2 and I was able to have the chemo I needed. If we didn’t have the research for my cancer, my struggle would have been harder for me.
I am also very lucky to have been given a wish from Make – A – Wish. I had first told my mom I wanted to swim with a whale shark, but she didn’t think that was a good idea. So I went to England, Paris and Scotland. My mom and dad took us from city to city on trains and subways to make sure I could see it all. I didn’t want to miss a thing. I got to see big Ben, the tower of London, the London Eye, the Eiffel tower, Stonehenge, the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, the Castle of Edinburgh, and the streets buried below Edinburgh (The Real Mary King’s Close). The streets below Edinburgh were really neat. I had a fantastic time. My sister even got to see Princess Kate’s wedding dress and I got to see the Queen’s horses.
In the end, I can tell you that I am a VERY lucky guy. I have family, friends and teachers who have loved and supported me through all of these challenges. I am in cancer remission and go to the doctors to have tests to make sure it stays that way. In return, someday I am going to help kids just like me so they know not to be scared and to continue to fight through.