MU student brings camp for children of cancer patients to Missouri

Monday, July 4, 2011 | 8:48 p.m. CDT; updated 4:40 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 19, 2011

COLUMBIA — Before his high school football games, Adam Ryan's mother liked to take him out to eat. On one such occasion in October of 2005, she looked at her 15-year-old son and told him she had breast cancer.

Many questions ran through Adam Ryan's mind. The first was one his mother, Terry Ryan, anticipated him asking.


For those interested in donating or are MU students looking to apply for the Camp Kesem Committee, please contact Adam Ryan at

"Of course the first question when you hear cancer is, 'Are you going to die?'" Terry Ryan said. "'Are you going to leave me?' I had to assure him that it wasn’t a good thing to get diagnosed, but it is so treatable."

Terry Ryan underwent 33 radiation treatments in a four-month span at St. John's Mercy Medical Center in St. Louis. At the end of her treatment, she became ill and suffered flu-like symptoms. She noticed how it took a toll on her son.

"He was more clingy than he usually was," Terry Ryan said. "He stayed home at night. He didn’t want to do anything, and I just had to reassure him that I would feel better. It was the only time I had ever seen him really scared."

She was more fatigued than usual and lost her appetite, but Terry Ryan wanted nothing more than to get better for her son.

They talked everything through, even tough questions such as discussing what would happen if she lost the battle to cancer. All outcomes needed to be considered.

"I just assured him that he would always be loved," Terry Ryan said. 

Adam Ryan was a left tackle for the Christian Brothers College High School football team in St. Louis at the time. Playing sports was a good outlet for him while his mother was undergoing cancer treatment. The Affton native didn't know anyone who had a parent with cancer.

Later as a junior at MU, he was searching for a camp to work at for the summer, specifically a camp for children who are suffering from cancer. Through his research, he found Camp Kesem, a one-week overnight camp for children ages 6 to 13 whose parents have or have had cancer.

He never thought such a camp existed. He immediately contacted the director of the camp, Liz Gray.

"She was like, ‘Well, we don’t pay, so you probably don’t want to work for us,'" Adam Ryan said he was told. "Everything is voluntary.”

Camp Kesem is a national organization that is run independently by different groups from universities across the nation. Unfortunately for Adam, MU didn't have a program. Students can only sign up through the school they attend.

Then in February, he was surprised by an email asking if he was interested in starting a camp in Missouri that MU students would run. He didn't think twice, and immediately replied with his acceptance.

"I remember I was really excited because I sent her like 10 emails in the next five minutes," Adam Ryan said. "And she was like, 'Whoa, whoa slow down.'"

He immediately started planning, which he will be doing for more than a year, even though the camp is only one week long. The camp will have up to 40 campers, but first Adam Ryan must raise $20,000 in order to make the camp possible.

Lance Armstrong's LIVESTRONG foundation decided to make Camp Kesem its Community Impact Project by granting $10,000 to 12 camps nationally who received the most online votes. Adam Ryan spent the month of May trying to convince anyone and everyone to vote for him to receive the grant.

He was notified June 7 by email of his victory. Now, because of the grant, he is halfway there. He started thanking all the people he knew who voted for him or were crucial factors in getting him votes, such as his friend, San Francisco 49er and former MU football player, Aldon Smith, who encouraged his Facebook friends to vote by posting it as his status.

"He just told me to look at my Facebook wall," Smith said.

Adam Ryan posted information about him winning the grant on his wall.

"I looked at it, and as soon as I looked at it, I gave him a call," Smith said. "I was surprised. I was happy that we got it taken care of."

Smith said he enjoyed helping his friend by spreading the word and getting people to vote. He plans on helping in the future. Adam Ryan said he plans on using Smith as a resource to raise the rest of the money he needs for the camp. He plans on choosing fundraising chairs and a full committee of MU students to help him as coordinators.

"This camp takes the sport thing that I had and the support of other kids to realize, 'Oh man. I am not the only one. There are other kids just like me,'" Adam Ryan said.

Now, more than five years after her dinner conversation with her son, Terry Ryan has stopped taking medication for her breast cancer treatment, and she now considers herself a cancer survivor. She said she plans to attend Camp Kesem and help out her son in any way he needs.

"Him doing this adventure with Camp Kesem is just the most incredible gift he could ever give me," Terry Ryan said. "It is a personal triumph for him, and it may be part of his healing as well."

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