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Vickroy: Orland Park breast cancer survivor gets her Fightin’ Irish on

Colleen Ryan-Ryan Denis Ryan sit backyard their OrlPark home.  |  DonnVickroy ~ Sun-Times Media

Colleen Ryan-Ryan and Denis Ryan sit in the backyard of their Orland Park home. | Donna Vickroy ~ Sun-Times Media

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Updated: November 11, 2013 11:45AM



Colleen Ryan-Ryan knows.

She understands the fear, the apprehension, the worry that accompanies being diagnosed with breast cancer. She knows because she’s been there.

But she has also been on the other side of that nightmare. And that’s why the Orland Park mom is reaching for the hands of other women diagnosed with the disease and offering words of comfort and assurance.

“Every case is different, but I want them to know that I went through this, too,” Ryan-Ryan said. “The mental is way worse than the physical.”

Mostly what she wants other breast cancer patients to know is that “I’m standing here now, with a smile on my face,” she said.

In September 2011, Ryan-Ryan (yes, Ryan is her maiden name, too), 53, went in for a routine mammogram. She was meticulous about keeping the annual appointment. But this time was different. Right away, she was told she needed a quick ultrasound.

“They said they thought they saw something,” she recalled.

That same day, a doctor told her to prepare herself.

“Prepare myself? I was hysterical,” she said.

A biopsy was performed and then came the long, emotionally exhausting wait.

When her gynecologist called five days later with the results, Ryan-Ryan was told, “You need to come in tonight.”

“I knew right then,” she said.

Her fears were magnified by the fact that she had lost two sisters-in-law to breast cancer.

Her husband’s sister, Johanna McDonough, died at 50. Her younger brother’s wife, Lauren, was diagnosed during pregnancy when she was 38. She lost her battle three years later, leaving her husband with three children to raise.

“I had only known two people who had ever had breast cancer, and both of them died from it,” Ryan-Ryan said.

Still, she vowed to fight. To fight like a girl, as the American Cancer Society’s slogan says.

“I’m Irish,” she said. “We don’t give up easily.”

Still, she’d find herself bursting into tears in the shower or when a sad song came on the radio. The hardest part of the experience, she said, was breaking the news to her son, Mike, who was 11 at the time.

“Having lost two aunts to this, I thought he would freak out,” Ryan-Ryan said. “But he didn’t. He was very calm about it.”

So was her husband, Denis, who repeatedly assured her that everything would be OK.

“I remember arguing with him, ‘How do you know, you’re not a doctor,’ ” she said. “But he just kept saying, ‘It’s going to be OK.’ ”

Once Sept. 27, 2011, was designated as her date for surgery, she said, a calmness came over her.

“Just knowing I was doing something about it made me feel better,” she said.

Ryan-Ryan was lucky. Because her cancer was caught early, she only needed a lumpectomy and follow-up radiation. No chemotherapy.

In fact, she only missed four days of work as a clerk for the Bridges Early Learning Preschool Program in Community School District 146.

“So far, it’s been a good road, not a road I would have chosen, of course,” she said. “I like to call it ‘My lump in the road of life.’ ”

So now, in addition to counseling those who have also been diagnosed, Ryan-Ryan will again walk, on behalf of those struggling and in memory of those lost, in Sunday’s 5K Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk in Orland Park. More than 400 people are expected to participate. They have already raised more than $59,000.

Last year, Ryan-Ryan raised $2,600. This year, she has passed $3,400. The money, she said, helps fund research and provide transportation and testing for women who do not have health insurance.

Her team name last year was “Colleen’s Crew.” But she quickly realized there were about 15 other teams with the same name, so this year she’s tapped her heritage with the name “Irish I Had a Cure.”

Pink T-shirts bearing that slogan have been selling like hotcakes, she said, and she’s donating the proceeds to the American Cancer Society.

“It’s my mission now to stay involved, to help others,” Ryan-Ryan said. “You don’t realize how strong you are until you go through something like this.”

Denis Ryan said, “She’s amazing. She has such a kind, compassionate nature. She is able to give other women hope.”

The Making Strides 5K walk steps off at 9 a.m. Sunday 13 at the Centennial Park soccer fields, 10401 W. 153rd St., Orland Park.

For more information about Colleen Ryan-Ryan’s team Irish I Had a Cure, visit http://main.acsevents.org/site/TR?fr_id=55801&pg=personal&px=23542013&s_oo=Xj22x3n3iggs9J93AsqxGg

For more information about Making Strides, visit http://makingstrides.acsevents.org/site/PageServer/?pagename=MSABC_CY13_AboutMakingStrides



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