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Struggling with deadly disease, family turns to community

June 16, 2011
By Stephen Anderson ( , The Daily Mining Gazette

LAURIUM - Frank and Taara Ryan moved to the Copper Country from New Mexico four years ago, looking to forge a new life together with a baby on the way.

Miles, the couple's first son was born, and for two years, the family loved their life in Laurium. Then, everything came crashing down.

In May 2009, Frank fell ill with what seemed like bronchitis. When red spots started appearing on his body, he drove a few blocks away to the Aspirus Keweenaw emergency room. He stayed overnight and blood tests revealed a 95 percent chance of blood cancer. After being rushed to Marquette, the family's worst fears were confirmed: 46-year-old Frank had acute myelogenous leukemia, a life-threatening form of blood cancer.

Article Photos

Stephen Anderson/Daily Mining Gazette
Frank and Taara Ryan are shown with their son Miles at their home in Laurium. Frank has been diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia, a life-threatening form of blood cancer.

"Our world turned upside down," Taara said during an interview in the family's home last week. "Frank lost 50 pounds in a month and went through six grueling months of chemotherapy."

Then the family finally received some good news. Frank went into remission in November 2009. The Ryans' normal life slowly returned, but unfortunately, so did Frank's cancer. In April 2011, Frank's cancer came back.

While the cancer was caught early through regular check-ups, Frank's chance of survival is just 12 percent unless he gets a bone marrow transplant at Detroit's Karmanos Cancer Center. With the transplant, he has an 80 percent chance of survival.

There are dangers with the transplant, and if Frank's body rejected the marrow, he could die within 90 days.

"It's tough to think of it in those terms," Taara said, "but it's the only chance we have for my husband to be here the rest of my life and to be here for our son and see him graduate college."

"We must have the transplant - there's no choice," Frank said. Unlike in 2009, there are currently bone marrow matches for Frank.

"He has a much better chance of survival with the transplant, and would be declared cured after 30 months," Taara said, "... if we survive financially."

While the tight-knit family has health insurance, two years of cancer care has wiped out their savings.

"Our buffer is completely gone, and we're on the edge right now," Taara said. "I have no idea how we're going to pay, but it's the difference between my husband living and dying."

Frank, who received his computer science master's degree in Germany, works through freelance contracts, but has had difficulty getting work due to the uncertainty with the disease and the travel and treatment requirements.

Taara, who works from home as an artist, is the family's primary provider.

"We haven't asked for anything, and I've worked harder, and harder and harder," Taara said. "But we'll have to both give up our income for this transplant."

The family would need to move to Detroit for 4-6 months for the extensive outpatient care affiliated with the transplant.

"We'd still have our whole life here to pay for, but we'd also have to pay for a caregiver at all times and find a place to live in downtown Detroit."

The primary reason the couple moved to Upper Michigan from New Mexico, aside from loving snow ("A few lights on a palm tree just didn't cut it," Frank said), was to provide a safe place for Miles to grow up - "like the white picket fence-type living up here," according to Taara. Frank and Taara were hoping to put Miles into kindergarten in the fall, but "even in the best-case scenario we'd be back in October," Taara said.

"It's so hard because our son has to go through this," Frank said. "There's a lot of pressure all around."

"It's such a financial and emotional rollercoaster right now," Taara said.

While the family is thankful for the generous support from neighbors and caregivers, they need more.

"Any help is appreciated," Taara said. "We're just a normal, middle class family that's not looking to milk the system - but the cost is extremely overwhelming, even with insurance."

"When there's nothing left, there's nothing left," Frank added.

The family has set up a fund at Range Bank called the Frank Ryan Benefit Fund or donations can be made online via Paypal at the family's blog:

"We've done everything we can think to do, but we're still at the end of our means," Taara said. "No amount is too big or too small."



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