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Cancer battle goes to next stage

Ryan Christian was only 11 years old on January 24 when she died after a three-year battle with pediatric cancer. All throughout the struggle, Ryan and her parents Jeff and Dorie had worked to raise money and awareness for cancer charity, and now that the struggle is over, the Team Ryan Charitable Foundation for Pediatric Cancer Research has only begun.

Ryan Christian during treatment.
Ryan Christian during treatment.

In Elmira, close friends of the family Andrew and Courtney Lackner are raising money with Team Ryan for the St. Jude Memphis Marathon in December.

“Ryan is a very special girl who got taken away from us way too soon,” said Andrew Lackner. “But not only for Ryan, this is for all kids and everyone suffering from cancer. For us, if this is a little thing that we can do to help out, it’s a very touching subject.”

The Lackners and Christians first met when Andrew, a former Sugar King, and Jeff were playing professional hockey in Tulsa, Oklahoma. There, the Lackners became acquainted with Ryan before her cancer diagnosis. The families met up again a few years later when Ryan was undergoing cancer treatments in Kansas City, Missouri. Ryan had been diagnosed with stage IV pediatric adrenal cortical carcinoma, a cancer that strikes only one in three million children.

“Ryan and I had a pretty inseparable bond – she was the highlight of my wedding,” remembered Courtney Lackner. “She was the only other person allowed to wear white to my wedding. I said, ‘If anybody is going to upstage me at my own wedding, it’s Ryan.’”

At the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Ryan received extensive surgery to remove a tumor from her adrenal gland, and was briefly declared cancer-free, but this miraculous turnaround came to an end after nine months, when the cancer returned to her lungs.

“Ryan did everything that the doctors told her to do,” said Jeff Christian from his home in Columbus, Ohio. “She took all the medicine, took all the surgeries, and she did it with a smile. We truly believed we were going to beat this, and we had to – that’s how we dealt with it.”

During her life, Ryan worked hard to raise awareness to the disease, appearing on The Today Show and in a Dolly Parton music video as part of her work. Through his struggles, Jeff Christian draws strength from memories of his daughter’s fortitude.

“To think about what she went through and how she went through it, it’s so inspirational to everybody who knew her. There wasn’t a lot of ‘Why me? Poor me.’ She was just like, ‘What’s next?’”

“What’s next?” for Jeff and Dorie Christian turned out to be the Team Ryan Foundation, a non-profit organization founded in Ryan’s memory to raise money for pediatric cancer research and families suffering from the disease. While the family had used the “Team Ryan” name for fundraisers throughout Ryan’s illness, it is now pending approval as an official charitable organization.

For now, the Christians and the Lackners will be raising money for St. Jude Hospital. For the third year in a row, the Lackners will travel to Memphis in December to join Team Terry for the St. Jude Charity Run for Children with Cancer, to raise money for the hospital that treated Ryan and other children suffering from cancer.

“It takes $1.7 million a day to run that hospital, and the amount of research and dedication – and the bond that Ryan had with her nurses – to see that kind of organization, there’s no way I wouldn’t spend the rest of my life fundraising for St. Jude,” said Courtney Lackner.

Team Ryan - Andrew and Courtney Lackner of Elmira.
Team Ryan – Andrew and Courtney Lackner of Elmira.

“The thing about hockey is, you’re travelling and you can never be with your real family. They are and forever will be our hockey family,” she added of the Christians.

For the marathon, the Lackners have set their fundraising goal at $2,500, but hope to far exceed it. You can donate to their campaign at www.stjude.org, or by visiting www.teamryanfoundation.org.

Andrew and Courtney Lackner will also be holding a fundraiser for Team Ryan at 16 Raising Mill Gate in Elmira August 10. All are welcome, and the Christians will be travelling from Columbus to attend.

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