Survivor Spotlight: Ryan Freydig

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Did Robert Frost, who penned these famous words exactly 100 years ago, know that he had just immortalized humanity’s heart? This is not indicative of one of the thousands of ordinary choices we make every day, but an extraordinary one made mostly by a gut-feeling and bated breath. Speaking with Cancer for College recipient, Ryan Freydig, this week forced me to remember how much bravery is required to take your life into your own hands and take the road less traveled. And just like Robert Frost, Ryan is able to look back on all the decisions that he made in the past 4 years and know that he chose well.

Back in 2008, Ryan had just received the news that he was finally in full remission after his battle with testicular cancer. Ready to leave that sickness behind him and charge, full steam ahead, into college and normal life, he quickly applied and was accepted in CSU Long Beach. But, as so many families have discovered, the cost of college is often just too much to fathom. Then something amazing happened

Ryan loved baseball, but when he was struck by cancer there was no way he was healthy enough to compete. So, it was momentous when he stepped back onto the field to play in his first game since beating cancer. The LA Times caught wind of Ryan’s story, came out to this game, and printed an article about his great comeback from cancer and the effects of chemo. Cancer for College heard about this and called Ryan to let him know about our scholarships for cancer survivors; it was the first time Ryan had heard about such a thing
and he hastily applied. After that, all he could do was wait.

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Ryan and his wife, Whitney.

And then it happened. Ryan got a call not only letting him know that he got a scholarship from Cancer for College, but that he would receive one of our coveted perpetual scholarships! College was possible again! Off he went to make all of his dreams of a college education come true. Nothing could stop him now. Nothing except an unexpected fork in the road. The kind of fork that Frost depicts in his poem: a fork that redefines dreams and helps you discover what you want, and who you are.

 

Ryan was in the midst of a great college experience, studying business and doing well, when he was given the opportunity to begin a career. He leaped at the chance to earn money and experience in the “real world” instead of sit in classes that would teach him how to earn money in the “real world.” So, Ryan left college and embarked on an entirely new adventure: working for AAA of Southern California, putting his business savvy to good use generating executive reports and ensuring that all claims are handled smoothly and efficiently.

 

Around the same time, Ryan met the woman who would later become his wife. Whitney was like a jolt of electricity, a breath of fresh air, and a drink of cold water that awoke Ryan to the possibility of life far north of normal. He was working full-time and had met someone who he felt like he could share an incredible life with. When you meet that person who turns your life upside down, and you realize life is better that way, it feels impossible to live any other way. Ryan not only came back from cancer, he was living life fully, in such a way that made up for time lost when he could not focus on anything besides fighting cancer.

Needless to say, Ryan took the road less traveled, said “sayonara” to college at CSULB, and started life with Whitney.  He and Whitney also have a son, Ryan Jr., and the three of them literally live out the life Robert Frost espoused as avid outdoor adventurers. They constantly go on hikes and camping trips around their Southern California home, and try

to visit as many state and national parks as possible. He also has dreams of someday returning to school to attain a degree in information systems, but feels there is no hurry as he is living a good life already.

 

Ryan, we cannot wait to hear what happens next. For everyone staring at a fork in the road, wondering whether or not you should trust your gut and venture out into the unknown, this story is for you. Great things await those who are brave enough to say “yes” to what they know is right, instead of simply following in the footsteps of those around you.   

To find out how you can make a difference in the lives of cancer survivors like Ryan, please visit cancerforcollege.org


Pro Pic - CircleAbout the author: Mitch Friesen is a childhood cancer survivor, CFC scholarship recipient (2011-2014), and now works for Cancer for College as their Director of Growth & Community. Mitch graduated from Azusa Pacific University with a degree in Business Management and minor in Theology. A lifelong learner and lover of adventure, when Mitch is not catching up with all of the awesome CFC recipients, he can be found enjoying the outdoors with his bombshell of a wife (Abbey), watching/playing soccer, and drinking coffee.

Take A Leap!

This week, a friend sent me the story of a woman who defied all odds to live, and it all started when she fell 50 feet, was hit by a car, and diagnosed with cancer. Truly inspiring!

You might already be wondering how such a violent and tragic story could be so inspiring, and before you post that comment telling me to get my brain checked you need to know that I am inspired not by the beginning of Megan Sullivan’s story but by the end, and how much perseverance it took for her to retain her adventurous spirit in the midst of cancer.
Megan's story

When you receive a cancer diagnosis, it feels like a suckerpunch: physically you cannot seem to catch your breath or maintain your focus; mentally and emotionally it feels like all of your dreams, goals, and future are indefinitely put on hold; and spiritually you may feel abandoned. In that moment, and many to follow, any semblance of the adventurous spirit you had before is sidelined to give you strength to endure the cancer treatment. However, like Megan experienced, cancer does not need to crush all of your hopes and dreams, but can be the fuel to start them sooner rather than later.

Is this even possible? Not only is this possible, it has been done before by some of our very own Cancer for College recipients! Our focus is, and always will be, providing hope and inspiration to cancer survivors, and when we get to provide a college scholarship to a deserving survivor we believe that we are helping to alleviate some of the burden shouldered by them and their loved ones. But that is only part of the story, because oftentimes the community of like-minded, forward-thinking cancer-haters that accompanies the scholarship helps provide the “oomph!” necessary to launch a passion.

12322901_962987567129331_7143590737415758127_oTake it from Kalina Campion, whose victorious bout with cancer is so recent that her hair is still recovering. She, and her sister Kiana, make up the band Rocky’s Revival, which has played at multiple Cancer for College events in the past year AND opened for Andrew McMahon at 2 different House of Blues venues around the country. Even better, Rocky’s Revival recently released a successful EP, Newspaper Dream (available on iTunes and Spotify), and Kalina is currently competing to be the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Woman of the Year!

Still not convinced?

hpusda344837x004_r900x493Okay, then let me tell you a little bit about Taylor Kaczmarek. Back in 2012, Taylor was playing college baseball and had just been drafted by the Kansas City Royals when he was diagnosed with ALL and had to put his entire life — baseball and all — on hold. Throughout his cancer treatment, he maintained his intense passion for baseball and worked out while he was in the hospital. And when his return to college baseball was threatened by a lack of credits, Cancer for College stepped in and made it possible to kick (or throw) start his pitching again. Now, Taylor is in the midst of his final season at USD, about to graduate, establishing himself as a mentor for another baseball player who is battling cancer, and looking forward to what comes next. (UPDATE: Shortly after graduation, Taylor was drafted for a second time by the Royals!)

Now, it is your turn. Are you ready to put your passions on the backburner, or will you turn up the heat and make today the day that you choose to retain your adventurous spirit no matter what type of cancer stands in your way?

Choose the latter; you are in good company.

To find out how you can make a difference in the lives of cancer survivors like Kalina and Taylor, please visit cancerforcollege.org


Pro Pic - CircleAbout the author: Mitch Friesen is a childhood cancer survivor, CFC scholarship recipient (2011-2014), and now works for Cancer for College as their Director of Growth & Community. Mitch graduated from Azusa Pacific University with a degree in Business Management and minor in Theology. A lifelong learner and lover of adventure, when Mitch is not catching up with all of the awesome CFC recipients, he can be found enjoying the outdoors with his bombshell of a wife (Abbey), watching/playing soccer, and drinking coffee.

Survivor Spotlight: Max Mueller

Author, Wendell Berry, believes life’s ultimate anchor point is not time, as many people believe, but, rather, place. The right place has the power to invoke an immediate sense of belonging, whereas time requires…well, time to do the same. Why does this matter, dear reader? For Max Mueller, a Cancer for College perpetual recipient from 2008-2010, it is exactly what turned his life into a story worthy of a Hollywood movie.

Max grew up surrounded by France. He did not live in France, nor was he French, but his parents’ Francophilia seeped into his bones and created in him a love for the French, known the world over for its exquisite taste and unique culture. So, when Max got the chance to participate in an exchange program back in 2006, he leapt at the chance and embarked on a journey that would impact his life forever.

 

IMG_6076Just 8 months into his stay, Max felt like he had to go to the doctor to check out a lump he had found. With his ever-present homestay mom there for support, Max was given the terrible news that he had testicular cancer. The doctors thought it would be fairly easy to treat, as far as cancer goes, and once Max flew back to the US they removed the infected testicle and they thought that would be it. However, a short while later Max was back in the hospital and finding out that the cancer had returned and had grown so much that it was pushing on his gall bladder and causing great discomfort. This time, chemo had to be used to rid Max’s body of the tumor. They were successful, and Max began a second, long journey: this one taking him not to another country, but back to full health.

For the first time since finding out he had cancer and being forced to quit his time in France early, Max could breathe and think about what just transpired in his life. One moment he is studying and traveling throughout France, engrossed in a culture and language that felt like second-nature, and the next he is lying in a hospital bed receiving treatment for testicular cancer. In the blink of an eye, Max became a member of a club that no one wants to join: he was now a cancer survivor. Everyone who has survived cancer knows that even after beating the disease, there is still a chance that the cancer will return, and so you have to receive regular checkups for 5 years until the doctors are certain there is a negligible chance of recurrence.

What was Max to do? College was just around the corner but cancer derailed any plans he may have had of finishing his studies in France. With more positivity than most could muster when their plans go awry, the Santa Cruz native chose to stay close to home and his hospital to attend UC Santa Cruz. It was at this time that the other price of cancer came in, and Max reached out to Cancer for College in order to help mitigate the high cost of college. Not only was Max granted a scholarship, but he and his application stood out so much that he became one of the Cancer for College perpetual scholarship winners, receiving our highest award every year until graduation.

France made another appearance in Max’s life in college, when Max decided to earn a degree in linguistics, and chose French as his language of focus. Little did he know that this “language of love” would soon sway the focus of his heart, as well. As most college graduates nowadays learn, you must go with the flow in order to make your way in the world. After graduating from UCSC in 2010, Max moved to LA and worked his way up in the restaurant industry, soon becoming manager of a renowned ice cream shop in Santa Monica.

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It was during this time that Max’s attention was drawn to pastries, or more specifically, to the woman named Charlotte making the sweet delicacies. Beautiful, talented, and raised in (you guessed it) France, Charlotte was a French-trained pastry chef with a knack for adventure. The two began to date, but were soon drawn apart when Charlotte went back to France. It was not until she returned that the two rekindled their relationship, fell in love, and were married just 6 months later.

“It is hard to believe that love stories that feel straight out of a movie actually exist, but it really did happen to me,” Max said, speaking about his fateful his reunion and marriage to Charlotte.

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That was three years ago, and Max and Charlotte are still living out their dreams together. Both are working for the same restaurant group in Santa Monica, and are continuing to move up in the industry. Max has just accepted another promotion that will take him back to the Huckleberry Café, where he began working and met Charlotte. Even though they remain very busy at work, they have found time to return to France. Not only do they visit some of Charlotte’s family who are still living in France, but they also remain connected with the family who took Max in back in 2006, who were with him when he first learned he had cancer. Max even attended the wedding of the family’s son, and has watched their two daughters grow up as if they were his own sisters.

Max can connect nearly every major event in his life to France in some way, and he is more than content with the outcome of his life today. “Place” truly is an anchor that holds us steady during difficult times and helps mold in the midst of great pressure. Now, Max has happened upon a new place upon which to ground a new chapter of his life. Santa Monica is already special because it is where Max met Charlotte and discovered his passion for the restaurant industry. Next week, that place will become home to another monumental occasion: not only will Max celebrate his birthday on April 6, but just a few days later he will celebrate surviving cancer for 10 years! The past decade was full of tumult and inspiration, more than most of us could imagine, and Max came through it like a champion. Moving forward, he can confidently face whatever comes his way, knowing that he will thrive no matter what happens, or where life places him.

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To find out how you can make a difference in the lives of cancer survivors like Max, please visit cancerforcollege.org


Pro Pic - CircleAbout the author: Mitch Friesen is a childhood cancer survivor, CFC scholarship recipient (2011-2014), and now works for Cancer for College as their Director of Growth & Community. Mitch graduated from Azusa Pacific University with a degree in Business Management and minor in Theology. A lifelong learner and lover of adventure, when Mitch is not catching up with all of the awesome CFC recipients, he can be found enjoying the outdoors with his bombshell of a wife (Abbey), watching/playing soccer, and drinking coffee.