McCrabb: Butler County family coping with 12-year-old’s cancer diagnosis amid coronavirus

You will have to excuse Sam and Opal Ryan for not getting overly concerned about the coronavirus.

Sure they understand the seriousness of COVID-19 and how the pandemic has the world’s attention, but right now they are facing another, closer-to-home crisis.

Their 12-year-old daughter has been diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer.

“That’s something you never want to hear as a parent,” Opal Ryan said at she sat in her daughter’s hospital room. “We knew it was a possibility, but that didn’t mean we were prepared.”

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But that’s exactly what the Ryans were told last month after their daughter Saige Ryan, a seventh-grader at Edgewood Middle School, had a second MRI.

That diagnosis came six months after Saige, her sister, Savannah, 15, a sophomore at Edgewood High School, and their grandmother, Sharon Ryan, were involved in a minor rear-end car crash on State Street in Trenton after school. While there didn’t appear to be any serious injuries, Saige continued to complain of severe back pain.

Her father, a football and wrestling official, told his daughter, a multiple-sport athlete, to push through the pain. Tough it out. Be. Strong. Girl.

“Now I wish I had never said that,” he said.

Eventually, Saige told her mother the pain was so intense she couldn’t walk around the grocery store.

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They met with an orthopedic doctor in Middletown and Saige received an MRI, It was the same day Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine declared schools closed due to COVID-19. On March 13, the following day, Saige and her parents were scheduled for another appointment to have the MRI results read.

Instead, they were told to take their daughter directly to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center emergency department to consult with a specialist. It was there she had another MRI that led to the cancer diagnosis.

Twenty-four hours later, Saige had a racquetball size tumor removed from her L-4 vertebra. Then the waiting game began. They were praying to hear the word “benign” when the pathology results were read.

Instead, in a second that changed their lives, on March 18, they were told the tumor was malignant. She had high-grade osteosarsoma of the lumbar spine.

“Our worst fear,” her mother said.

“That was a dark day right there,” her father said.

The Ryans, divorced for 11 years, looked at each other and knew what they faced. They needed to be united in their crusade against cancer.

“It was like getting on a horse and holding on as you get ready for the ride,” her mother said. “We have known each other for 20 years. We said, ‘OK, here we go. Let’s go.’”

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Saige received her first round of chemotherapy and radiation treatments on March 31. In the matter of two weeks, Saige went from complaining about back pain and battling cancer.

“It was like ‘bam, bam, bam,’” her mother said. “We didn’t have much time to think about it.”

For the next several months, the Ryans will spend as much time at Cincinnati Children’s Liberty Campus as they will at their Middletown homes. Saige has received two of her scheduled 36 weeks of treatments. She will be hospitalized for several days, then released, then back in the hospital.

The treatments cost Saige most of her blonde hair. She was worried about how she’d look without her thick, curly hair and the teasing she’d receive from classmates. So in a show of unity, her parents shaved their heads and her sister shaved the back of her head.

“We’re in this together,” her mother said.

So that brings us back to the coronavirus. The Ryans call the virus “a blessing in disguise.”

Sam Ryan, 39, a special education aid at Edgewood, said being off school and not having wrestling tournaments to officiate have allowed him to spend more time with her daughters and follow every step in Saige’s medical journey.

Opal Ryan, 35, is a stay at home mother who cares for her two other children, a son and daughter.

Since their family and friends are following DeWine’s stay-at-home orders, the Ryans don’t have to worry about people wanting to visit Saige at home.

The restrictions from the coronavirus also mean there aren’t as many patients and parents in the hospital. The census is way down.

“You walk in and it’s like a ghost town,” Opal said. “Very, very empty. Very, very scary.”

She was talking about the hospital.

She could have been talking about the cancer.

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