Larry Ryan was born in Brooklyn, New York, on September 25, 1945; he passed from this world into the loving arms of Christ on February 25, 2013. He was holding tight to my hand as he left, to his last breath he tried not to leave me. He put up a valiant battle with GIST for over six years, but he could fight no more.
I met Larry when I was interviewing for a job at a VW dealership. During our interview we talked for an hour and forty-five minutes but only spoke of the job for five or 10. We hit it off like old friends—a spark was ignited that day, and unknown to me for months, Larry said he fell in love that day. For me a special connection was made and Larry became my best friend very quickly. Then he began to ask me out, repeatedly! But I had two children and could not afford to lose my job over an office romance. Nowadays that would be considered a no-no but rules never meant much to Larry. Months later he entered one more time into my office and said, “I just quit my job, you got a promotion to my position, no more excuses, now will you go out with me?” I was so surprised I said, “Of course I will.” Heck, I’d marry him! And I did, just seven months later in a tiny chapel in the New Mexico desert.
Larry delighted in spoiling me; little gifts would show up around the house. Flowers, sweet cards, and other thoughtful gestures from him were something I got to enjoy for 15 years. I loved him fully and completely, as did he me. All this showed me I had found my true love, my forever mate, and we both basked in the joy of finding each other. This was a second chance for each of us, and we reveled in the good fortune we felt was a special gift from above.
In December of 2006, Larry began his journey with GIST. He won many battles with the help of The Life Raft Group. Larry overcame seemingly insurmountable odds several times against this incurable cancer. The diagnosis was terrible—the side effects, the weakness, surgeries…. All of it wore us down. But it also worked as the catalyst that brought the family back together. Larry’s children and my own family were able to overcome past issues and band together to form a strong bond that would help to sustain us all over the next six years.
I asked him once if he could change anything, what would it be? He said he’d have taken more golf lessons and completed his pilot’s license training. I asked, wouldn’t you choose not to have gotten cancer? He said he didn’t choose to get it in the first place, how could he choose not to? Besides, he said, it brought his family back together. . . That’s all that mattered.
In 2009, we were losing our house, so we decided to sell everything in it and buy an RV so we could travel! Larry had recovered from his liver surgery and became well enough to travel the country in an RV with me for 18 glorious months. We enjoyed adventures from the Oregon coast (his favorite) to Cape Cod, Massachusetts (my favorite) and everywhere in-between. We were chased by a tornado in Oklahoma, nearly flooded in Wako, Texas. Drove inland by a hurricane on Cape Cod, and treated to the beauty and majesty of watching every change of season known to the U.S.
Larry loved to fish—he tossed his line in the Pacific, the Atlantic, lakes, rivers, and streams, anywhere he could find to enjoy the water and the tug of a fish on his line. I remember once he was sitting by a river in East Texas with his line in the water and I was reading a book nearby. A man approached and asked what Larry expected to catch. Larry said he didn’t know, just whatever is in the water. The man drawled, “Well yer gonna be here fer quite some time, that thar is a drainage ditch.” Larry pulled out his line, which was covered with crawdads. He turned to the man and said, “Look there, I caught some hors d’oeuvers for tonight,” then proceeded to walk back up the bank, dropping his “hors d’oeuvers” along the way. Oh, how his quick mind amazed me, always one step ahead and quick with a wink.
Dashing our hopes, tumors returned in December 2010. Surgery followed at Dana Farber, but traveling in the RV was no longer possible. Heartbroken, he and I returned home to Arizona in 2011 to be near the support of our family. In June of 2012, he could no longer tolerate oral chemo and entered Hospice.
In 2006, when we first heard the words, “We’ve found a mass,” we were overcome with grief. When the news had sunk in and the tears had dried, Larry looked at me and said, “I feel so sorry for you, the caregiver has the toughest job.” Even then he was thinking of me. He had cared for his first wife through her cancer and in the years he fought GIST he sometimes expressed regret that he had not known how to be an advocate for her as I had been for him.
In the last months of his life, Larry told me several times that if I could continue, if I could use the experiences and lessons we’d learned as a team fighting for his life against GIST, then his death would not be in vain. The cancer would not have won, but only served to continue to be the driving force behind my resolve to help others who are walking the path of surviving this diagnosis. I promised him I would. He wanted his legacy to be the continued support and assistance of GISTers everywhere. It’s just like him to be thinking of others at the end of his life, even strangers, only connected by this one common thread. It shouldn’t surprise anyone, as Larry never once asked, “Why me?” He never complained, but often tried to console others who were upset for him. Now he watches over me, my guardian angel, forever perfect— forever my love.