Ryan Pak, 5, climbs on the armrest of a living room couch to wrestle his way into the laps of his father, Ray, and older sister Jeneray.
Though calm and collected on the outside, Ryan’s body is battling a cancerous fight on the inside. His porter catheter and chemotherapy serve as constant reminders.
“My son was diagnosed with cancer last year,” Ray Pak said. “At first, we were angry. We asked, ‘Why? Why my son? He’s so innocent.’ Now, we don’t say that. It brought us closer as a family, and we’re learning to cope.”
Ryan is set to be an honoree at the Candlelighters Childhood Cancer Foundation of Nevada’s Evening of Hope event at 7 p.m. June 6 at the World Market Center, 495 S. Grand Central Parkway, Suite 2203.
The nonprofit foundation provides support, services and education for families of children with cancer.
“Each of our honorees are picked because of their courage, strength and perseverance,” said Kelly Webb, development coordinator. “Ryan is a really charming little boy and never complains despite being in and out of the hospital. His family has really sacrificed a lot to be there for him.”
At 4, Ryan was diagnosed with B-cell lymphoma, which targets the blood cells responsible for producing antibodies to fight infection.
“It started with an inflamed golf ball-size lump on his head,” Pak said. “We went to the pediatrician, and he said he probably bumped his head and not to worry because it would calcify.”
After three months and two more doctor visits, the lump grew to the size of a baseball.
“We went to another pediatric surgeon, and she said, ‘Don’t worry. I don’t think it’s cancerous, but let’s get it removed,’ ” Pak said. “Ryan had the procedure at Sunrise Hospital, and the initial biopsy came back negative.”
A biopsy was also sent to the University of California, Los Angeles for a second analysis. Two weeks later, Pak and his wife received a phone call saying the results were positive for cancer.
“When I found out it was positive, I quit my job on the spot because I needed to take care of my son,” Pak said. “(Doctors) said it was one of the rarest forms of cancer out there, so we were freaking out. But once his oncologist said it’s curable and treatable, it eased the pain a little.”
After the diagnosis, Ryan had a porter catheter inserted and underwent high doses of chemotherapy to reduce two cancerous lymph nodes found on his chest.
“Right from the get-go, Ryan had so many side effects, like fatigue and white mouth sores,” Pak said. “We were literally counting down the days when the doctor said, ‘You know, let’s give him a lower dose because of his side effects, but instead of 30 more days, let’s do it for two years.’”
Ryan continues to be on maintenance for the next year, receiving chemotherapy injections every month, taking medication every night and visiting the clinic for tests once a week.
Pak said the diagnosis was tough on him and his wife despite working in the medical field as a respiratory therapist and nurse practitioner.
“It was tougher because we knew more,” Pak said. “I had so many questions I needed answers for, but I would never get them by looking in the dictionary or Google. We reached out to Candlelighters, and they’ve been amazing. I cannot say enough good things about them.”
Jeneray, 7, also supports Ryan by making sure they receive equal treatment, Pak said.
“Ryan cannot eat raw food, so when we go out for sushi, he cannot eat the raw fish,” he said. “My daughter loves to eat raw sushi, but she won’t eat it anymore because Ryan can’t have it. She sacrifices things like this for him because they are best friends.”
Ryan attends kindergarten at Wright Elementary School, 8425 Bob Fisk Ave., where he enjoys learning about science, physical education and theater. He loves to play with Jeneray and wants to be a video game designer when he grows up.
“If I was a millionaire, I would give all my money to Candlelighters,” Pak said. “That is what I think of them, really. Without them, I don’t know where we would be.”
For more information, visit candlelightersnv.org or call 702-737-1919.
Contact Southwest View reporter Caitlyn Belcher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0403.