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The sky's the limit for Ryan after his 'fight for life'

Published Date: 22 February 2016 Categories: Patients, Carers, Leukaemia, ALL

When Ryan Franzi found out his acute lymphoblastic leukaemia (ALL) was in remission, he had an orange leukaemia ribbon and the words 'fight for life' tattooed on the side of his head.

"It's pretty cool and a lot of people say it's grouse," said Ryan, 25, whose head is half shaved to show his new tattoo.

The roof tiler, who lives at Hastings (Vic) with his mum and two of his sisters, sports lots of tattoos, and in December 2014, the day before he "got sick", he'd made a booking to have the tattoo on his arm finished.

"It was strange, I felt 100% fine and was very fit and strong," said Ryan, although at the gym he had noticed he had a bruise.

"When I showed it to my mum, she said go to the doctor, but I didn't, and the next day, I had another bruise. Then they started popping up and spreading."

That's when Ryan went to his local hospital. After initial tests, he was referred to a Melbourne hospital where he was diagnosed with ALL on "the 12th of the 12th" and where he spent the next month, including Christmas and New Year.

"I was pretty shattered, heartbroken," said Ryan. "I'd just had a massive year at work. I had my whole life ahead of me. It was a big punch in the face."

When Ryan was making a decision about his treatment options, one of his questions was "what would happen if I don't do treatment?".

"I was told I'd have six to eight weeks. That hit me – I was shattered and crying.

"I was thinking about taking my time to decide but I snapped out of it. I only had two choices, to live or die. I went into survival mode. I wanted the best chance to get out of there (hospital), to be healthy, and to beat it (ALL)."

Two days later Ryan started treatment on a clinical trial called ALL6. He went into remission two months into his treatment, which he took as a "great sign the treatment was doing the job".

"I was in and out of hospital over the next nine months and had heaps of ups and downs."

This included a six-week stint in hospital when he didn't react well to his last cycle of treatment, in late-2015.

"I was really sick. When I started treatment I was fit and strong and the more hits I got, the weaker I got," Ryan explained.

He's now in full remission, on maintenance treatment, which involves medication on a daily basis and six-weekly check-ups, and is due to complete the trial in August 2017.

"I never know what's going to happen and get nervous when I'm waiting for my blood results," said Ryan. I know my life could come crashing down. There's no guarantee and that's why I enjoy my time now.

"At first (after diagnosis) my life was the hospital and cancer. Now everything has turned around again. I feel fine apart from a couple of days here and there, and have a full head of hair."

Ryan is planning to lose his hair again this year (2016), but this time for the World's Greatest Shave.

"Life was pretty good before I got sick and it's even better now, in a strange way. I appreciate things more. Every day I wake up and I'm not in hospital and I'm not sick and I'm feeling well is a great day – like I've won lotto."

When Ryan spoke to us for this story, he was at a park with his girlfriend, Ebony, and his dog, Tiny, and had recently been holidaying in Queensland where he had his first skydiving experience.

"I wanted to skydive over the beach. It was my reward for putting in the hard yards and it was awesome. Mum bought me a go pro and in the next couple of weeks I'll use it when I abseil forward down the side of a building in Melbourne. And I haven't been anywhere overseas yet, so I've got to get moving!"

Ryan's mum, Celeste, has been by his side the whole time since his diagnosis. His girlfriend, Ebony, also was with him day and night. She took him to appointments and both she and Ryan's mum drove to and from Melbourne, sometimes several days a week.

"I couldn't have done it without them and my three sisters and my mates. They were my support group," said Ryan. "I wouldn't be here today without them and the doctors, nurses and hospital staff who have been my second family over the last 18 months."

Ryan said a blood cancer support coordinator from the Leukaemia Foundation continues to call him regularly and has looked after him by providing fuel vouchers, information resources, and has offered to help him get fit and back into training.

Ryan reckons having leukaemia has really changed his approach to life.

"I enjoy things a lot more because I know how bad things can get," he said. "I'm 100% very different in how I view things now. I don't think too much could affect me or worry me. It makes you mentally strong and I never had patience before."

His advice to others is to "hang in there, a lot", which he says is easier said than done.

"I've spoken to other people with ALL and one guy told me how he was down and out, and now he's married and back at work. That's what keeps me going.

"Last year I was connected to seven bags in a room and today I'm in a park with my girlfriend and dog." 

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