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Cancer setback in high school didn't dampen Illinois State senior's drive, spirit
Orland Park

Cancer setback in high school didn't dampen Illinois State senior's drive, spirit

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Ryan Colby, who said he was “the worst player” on the Sandburg freshman football team seven years ago, was weightlifting on a November afternoon that year and something didn’t feel right.

“My back kind of hurt and I was like ‘wow, did I pull it or something?’ ’’ the Orland Park resident said.

But it wasn't a pulled muscle. A series doctors’ visits discovered lymphoma.

In a four-year span, Colby went through:

  • 50 rounds of chemotherapy.
  • 30 days of radiation.
  • A nicked artery and vocal cords.
  • And septic shock

He underwent intensive physical therapy and saw 12 doctors. He also had a stem cell transplant.

Through all of that, he graduated on time and maintained an upbeat attitude.

“My attitude was, whatever happens, happens,” he said. “You can’t do anything about it. Why make everyone else feel sad when you can just push through it?

“You can’t change things that are out of your control.”

Colby was one of three honorees at the Christmas Without Cancer 5K Walk/Run in Evergreen Park Sept. 18. Also recognized were Evergreen Park’s Nicole Houlihan, a Tinley Park native and Providence Catholic High School graduate, and Alsip’s Don Grenda.

The 5K is the biggest fundraiser for the organization, which started in 2003 by oncology nurse Gerri Neylon. It has aided thousands in the Chicago area providing holiday gifts, as well as basic necessities to families dealing with  cancer.

The organization identifies and adopts multiple families throughout the year and supplies them with gift cards for groceries, medications, gas and other items, as well as help with mortgage payments, rent, tuition and travel related expenses for treatment.

Colby is giving back, helping people who are going through ordeals similar to his.

He is a senior at Illinois State University, majoring in cyber security with hopes to be a consultant.

Even with the high number of chemo and radiation treatments, he said the worst part having to go to the hospital when he had a fever.

“I would have to go in just in case I had pneumonia or anything like that,” he said. “Usually I was feeling good on those days. But whenever I got a fever, they made me come in.”

He thanks his family — his dad, Steve; his mother, Julie; his sister, Maggie; and dog, Gretzky — for being with him every step of the way.

Now that he is in remission, he looks back on his illness philosophically.

“It made me who I am,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to do it all over again but it definitely made me look at my life and do things that I normally wouldn’t.”

That included jumping out of an airplane.


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