It started simple.
He was spending time with friends at Seabrook when he first noticed it. Next he was working in his garage on a project, “doing something” – and he tried to get his wedding ring off. It wouldn’t come off.
The wedding ring threw open a door for Enumclaw Police Sgt. Tony Ryan that brought him face-to-face with death, months of unbearable pain and a second chance.
In less than a year Ryan saw the worst of fortune turn into the best of fate.
It was February 2014 when Ryan noticed a tiny bump on his ring finger. He happened to show it to a nurse from Franciscan who suggested he have a doctor take a look at it – just in case. The physician told him it was a cyst and likely would go away without incident… in time.
Ryan is big man – 6 feet, 5 inches tall, 250 pounds. At 37 he could pass as a pro linebacker.
He’s been on the Enumclaw police force for 11 years. Up to that day in February he had seen and experienced his share of problems like any young man, but Ryan was about to get a crash course in the upside-down meaning of life.
In two months the tiny bump grew down to his fingernail. Ryan was sent to a hand specialist. A biopsy was sent to an Oregon lab. The pathology report came back that it could be sarcoma – cancer.
In the timeline of a few months Ryan lost all function in his fingers, as if his hand was frozen. Following “MRI after MRI” the physician found a mass growing in Ryan’s left wrist. By June the cancer was found in both his left and right wrists.
“The first thing they asked was, ‘Are your affairs in order?’,” Ryan said. “The surgery was a cakewalk compared to what they said that day.”
Seven months after noticing a bump on his ring finger, the hand surgeon decided to operate on both his left and right hands in an effort to save Ryan’s life.
For a cop and a very active young man, Ryan was stopped in his tracks.
“You might as well of cut my legs off,” he said.
Prior to the surgery Ryan said the pain was the “worst I’ve ever experienced; it was endless. It felt like my arm was in boiling water. On a good night I got an hour of sleep.”
When he did get to sleep, he woke up to “pain that put me on my knees.”
Ryan is a cop. He is used to fixing problems and not losing a fight. He doesn’t take pain medication, but this was no car chase, burglary or bar fight. He was staring straight at an aggressive sarcoma that day-by-day was corkscrewing into his tendon sheets heading for his bones, and his life.
“The hardest part was watching my family, my wife and two girls,” he said. “They were devastated.”
His wife, Kari, and two daughters, Jessica and Allie, walked with him through his crucible.
“Kari wouldn’t let me have a bad day,” he said.
Friends came and helped with work at his house and “they kept my head on straight.”
But the days were bad, very bad, and the pain excruciating and overwhelming.
It happened when he reached his lowest. He had come to the crossroads and he knew it. It was that day when a friend came – Pastor Marcus Kelly.
“Marcus just appeared,” Ryan said. “His involvement became so important in my life. He walked me down the path I needed to go. I was never very spiritual, I never understood it until Marcus, until I started to believe. God’s grace is that amazing.”
The surgeries were set for August 2014. The chances of success were not good.
The time had come for Ryan to prepare for his fate.
“Marcus and I prayed together,” Ryan said. “He baptized me.”
After three surgeries the sarcoma was stopped. Suddenly he was free from the grip of cancer; it was gone.
“It was like a miracle,” Ryan said. “It was such an emotional experience.”
He was able to return to the force within a few months, and he had complete use of his hands. There has been no sign of cancer since.
“The totality of the entire event made me understand patience and forgiveness,” he said. “One thing I’ve learned is tough days come and go. Take them for what they are worth. And it is OK to be vulnerable.”
Ryan said the fast-growing sarcoma made him grow – quickly.
“It is a second chance,” he said. “I got a second chance.”