Team Ethan - Run, Walk, Give

Team Ethan - Run, Walk, Give

From Ryan Vanni

“Every day you get a chance to wake up, you gotta really be grateful... Most importantly, be grateful. And ride this motherfucker ‘till the wheels fall off.” -Martin Lawrence, Runtelldat, 2002

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“Every day you get a chance to wake up, you gotta really be grateful... Most importantly, be grateful. And ride this motherfucker ‘till the wheels fall off.”

-Martin Lawrence, Runtelldat, 2002

On February 28, we will be participating as a team in the2015 Sacramento Undy Run/Walk at William Land Park. Afterwards we will celebrate with food and drink. Location TBD.

Join the team by clicking here:

But first, my story...

I've never been a big Martin Lawrence fan, but for some weird reason that line has stuck in my head for the past 14 years. It always seemed like a good approach—be happy for the little things, and maintain just enough irreverence to keep yourself sane. That's more or less what I've always tried to do, until one day my own wheels fell off.

Long story short—I was diagnosed with Crohn's Disease when I was around 14 years old. I can't remember the exact age, but I was young enough that I can barely remember not having it. Things are hard enough as a teenager, and this certainly didn't make things any easier, but I quickly adapted and worked around it. I was a competitive skier, and I found that by staying active, maintaining a reasonable diet and a positive outlook, I was able to keep my symptoms at a manageable level.

I always monitored the disease, and as I grew older, my doctors kept telling me how severe my symptoms were. I tried an array of drugs and remedies, but nothing seemed to make much of a difference. To me though, I never felt THAT bad. I was good at my job, which could be stressful at times and occasionally there were long hours, but I loved it and the people I worked with. I never allowed the disease to get in my way. I ran, I climbed mountains, I worked out every day, and lived a very full life. I was running marathons, how sick could I be?

Suddenly, in June of 2014, everything changed. I had a flare-up that was way beyond anything I'd experienced before. My whole body hurt, I was weak, and food was moving through me faster than I could eat it. I lost 15% of my body weight in three weeks. Life screeched to a halt. I could feel my body destroying itself from the inside out. In my heart, I knew that I was slowly dying.

My wheels had fallen off.

I was fast-tracked into surgery, removing my entire colon, which did indeed save my life. It turned out I had developed stage two colon cancer as a result of cumulative inflammation from the disease. I was extremely lucky, as the tumor was just millimeters from penetrating the outer wall of my large intestine, which would vastly increase the likelihood of cancer spreading to my liver and other parts of my body.

While there is no sign that the cancer has spread, I’m currently undergoing cycles of chemotherapy and radiation as a precautionary measure, to ensure it doesn’t return. While I’m receiving lower doses than folks with more aggressive cancers, the side effects from the treatment have proven to be nearly as debilitating as the disease itself. 

Throughout treatment, I’m doing my best to continue to work and maintain as normal a life as possible. One, getting sick is really expensive, even with health insurance. Time off for doctor’s appointments, co-pays, prescriptions, treatments not covered by insurance, medical supplies, all add up quickly and endlessly. Even in a two-income household, there’s just no way that my wife and I could get by without my salary. 

Additionally, I’ve needed a life line to the “real world”. Every morning, I go to treatment, and I sit with folks from all walks of life, all battling the same disease in one manifestation or another. Everyone facing the same battle, everyone’s scars exposed. Some of us will make it, and some won’t. It’s difficult to go from that world, back to work, and feel like any of it matters. But I have to remember that the world of the disease is just a pit stop for me, that cannot trap me and hold sway over my life. 

While the “real world” can be trivial at times, it’s also the world filled with love, joy and adventure, the things that really do matter.

Second to the love from my friends and family, the biggest thing that has given me the courage, inspiration and hope to take on this battle was reading the stories of those who had experienced it before me, and have been able to move on with their lives. It occurred to me that one of the greatest things we can accomplish as humans is to inspire or offer hope to others. Even if it's just one person, we've made the world an incrementally better place. I can only hope to provide a glimpse of that to someone else.

I usually like to run a marathon once a year. I didn't get to do it in 2014, and the Undy Run will be my first race since surgery. Even if I have to crawl across the line, I will finish. It's a small step, one of many, and I will be taking it as a result of the love and support of my friends and family who are also running. I am absolutely floored by everyone who has rallied around me, making my fight their own. I have no plans to be beaten, and while my wheels may have fallen off for a time, I’m planning on getting a new set out on the road as soon as possible.

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