On the same team: community rallies around young cancer survivor

As the Football Cats prepare for a tough summer of conditioning work, they already have some extra inspiration from a little boy in Richmond. The Cats are not the only team nearby that has learned from him. One young man has gotten a whole community on the same team.

Ryan Cremeens has always dreamt of playing sports. This was his year to join a team. That dream was deferred, though, when he became one of the 300,000 kids, worldwide, that get cancer.

“I was really looking forward to sports and I couldn’t play because I was in the hospital and stuff,” Ryan said.

At just age eight, Ryan was diagnosed with Sarcoma, a word a parent never wants to hear.

“You know, all you want to do as a parent is protect your child. Typically, you think, ‘Oh, I can give him Tylenol and make him better. I can give him a cool bath,'” Ryan’s Dad, Eric, said.

Instead, Eric had to watch his son go through a surgery, 42 weeks of chemo, and 7 weeks of radiation.

“My initial response was I want to bury my head in the sand. I don’t want to talk about it, think about it. Maybe it’ll go away and I said, ‘We can’t do that. He can’t do that,'” Eric said.

The family set out on a journey they did not think they would ever take.

“He had mouth sores and that was one of the worst periods of times was the mouth sores because it hurt to drink, it hurt to eat,” Eric said

In their most challenging moments, though, something kind of amazing happened.

“It first started with Zach Miller,” Eric said.

The Chicago Bears tight end was friendly with Ryan before he got sick, but after, he started talking to him more often, and invited his family to a game. Soon, Ryan was recruiting the people he has always admired, the people we often see as untouchable, to his team.

“It makes me feel awesome,” Ryan said of his team’s support.

Cats tight end C.J. Conrad was there with Ryan for his first chemo treatment.

“He had a smile on his face still so that just showed me a lot about him. I mean, I’d be so scared and he took this on and it just shows a lot about his character and who he is as a person,” Conrad said.

Before surgery, Ryan was scared, but Zach Miller face timed with him, telling him he has had “a million” surgeries.

“He told me it was not bad to have surgery, it would help me,” Ryan said.

Teams Ryan admired soon joined his: med flight crews, the legends, EKU basketball. The list goes on.

“They see his smile and his perseverance and his attitude and they want to do what they can to help and we appreciate that, just giving him all these experiences because, you know, you can’t buy an experience,” Eric said.

It seems like a dream, but we all know cancer is no dream.

“If I have a bad day he’ll pick me up, meaning that he would make me feel better and if he has a bad day I’d pick him up,” Ryan said, explaining a promise he made to Eric.

With help from his team, Ryan reached his version of a bowl game, the last day of chemo. Ryan’s dad says it is tradition at oncology clinics to ring a bell when you have reached a milestone like finishing chemo.

“He’s threatened to turn it into the Liberty Bell, he’s gonna ring it so hard,” Eric said.

What better way to celebrate a victory, than making some noise then celebrating with your team? Maybe you even took part in Ryan’s celebration. During the Blue-White spring game, Ryan inspired the Football Cats like they inspired him. He led the team onto the field towards victory. What is left for an 11-year-old sports fan when he has already been on ESPN?

There is a whole life, full of possibilities.

“He’s given up a lot over the past year as far as a normal childhood, but he’s also had several once in a lifetime experiences that can’t be replaced,” Eric said.

Cancer is not something Ryan should have ever gotten, but the journey changed him and his family, made them better. Ryan’s dad says his son is now more self-confident, his family less focused on the material.

“That stuff gets old quick and we’re just having experiences together and providing them with that and the understanding of what community is and what families do for each other,” Eric said.

Those are lessons Ryan will take with him as he continues to learn from his closest teammates, his family.

Ryan and his family say now, they want to help advocate for pediatric cancer patients. There is a slight risk Ryan’s cancer could come back, especially in the first year, but for now, he is just excited to join his first football team this fall.

Categories: Local News, News

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