A routine Pap exam in 2004 was the beginning of a fifteen-year cancer journey for Linda Ryan, cervical cancer survivor.
At age 36, Linda was initially diagnosed with stage 0 adenocarcinoma in situ (AIS), a condition where abnormal cells are found in the glandular tissue that line certain internal organs, such as—and most commonly—the cervix. The first cervical cancer recurrence happened in 2011 when Linda was 43, and she participated in a phase two clinical trial at MD Anderson Cancer Center. Linda’s second recurrence occurred in 2016 at age 48 and required twenty-eight rounds of radiation and weekly doses of cisplatin, a chemotherapy drug. During the third recurrence in 2018 at age 50, Linda participated in another trial using tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte (TIL) cellular therapy, where immune cells that have moved from the blood to a tumor are removed from the tumor, treated and replaced to help the immune system fight cancer. This year, after new lesions were found, she’ll be participating in a clinical trial using immune checkpoint inhibitors, which block certain proteins to allow immune systems cells to kill cancer cells better.
When asked how she felt after being diagnosed, Linda wrote, “Scared, but it was so early and the treatment was a hysterectomy only, so I felt like it was manageable. Subsequent diagnoses have been more difficult because I know more now and know how grueling the treatment can be. It gets more frightening each time.”
Through each recurrence, Linda leaned on her friends as a primary support system—those who knew what she needed and let her be herself, whether that meant giving her space to cry occasionally or making her laugh when times were tough. “My sons and parents have been wonderful, but it’s hard for me to lean on them for support because it is most painful and scary for them,” she explained.
“Survivorship was initially difficult for me because I, and everyone around me, expected that the Linda before cancer is the Linda I would be after—that couldn’t be farther from reality. I came out of every treatment a different person. Perspective changes through the process.”
Today, Linda and four friends run ME STRONG, a Florida-based 501(c)3 charity that offers financial assistance to those battling cancer and helps fund critical cancer research. Linda wrote that their group, “wanted to fund research for cervical cancer to help other women in my shoes.” She was directed to the Foundation for Women’s Cancer (FWC) to explore the opportunity to fund a research grant, which was accomplished through the FWC Research Grants and Awards program.
“Always have hope—the research that is being done is fascinating. And don’t give cancer any more power than it deserves—know that you are in charge.” – Linda Ryan