When Ryan Ferro recounts the three weeks he spent awaiting the analysis of the lemon-sized brain tumor he’d just had surgically removed in 2017, it’s easy to envision an actuarial table being constantly re-calculated in a cloud of numbers over his now-permanently bald head — like a special effect in a movie or a thought bubble in a comic strip. Ryan, a T. Rowe Price Investment Analyst, was just 32 when he experienced a seizure which would lead to the discovery of brain cancer. The next-level knowledge of statistics, risk assessment, and analysis that he had developed in undergrad economics classes at Northwestern and MBA courses at Dartmouth had the typically-stoic young dad in distress as he ran equations to determine whether he might have just a year or two left with his family, or potentially many more.
Though he knew that many of the factors in this equation — the favorable location of the tumor in his brain, the success his surgeon had in resecting the entire mass at once, access to proton radiation treatment, and the best possible insurance coverage — were in his favor, one big unknown could swing the final result drastically in either direction. Thankfully, after weeks of waiting and ‘what if’ing, Ryan learned that the type and grade of his tumor, a grade III anaplastic oligodendroglioma, as well as its specific genetic mutations, gave him the best possible chances of long-term survival and quality of life.
Once equipped with this data, Ryan was able to redirect his thoughts away from analysis and back toward living. For several months into his treatment, Ryan continued living in nearly the exact same way he always had. After completing his daily proton therapy by 8:30 a.m., he would walk a mile to his office, stop at Starbucks, be at his desk ready to work by 9:00, and stay until he was exhausted — usually until 5:30 or 6:00, and as treatment intensified, until mid-afternoon. Upon completing proton treatment, he had a one-month break in treatment before beginning his 13-month stretch of chemotherapy. Ryan and his wife Hilary, along with their young toddler Carson, kept traveling too — one of their favorite activities — hitting California, Florida, Copenhagen, Iceland, and South Carolina all while undergoing treatment.
Working his way from a humble upbringing to pay for college, land an investment banking role, and excel in a highly-competitive, rigorous work environment, Ryan had become conditioned to push forward through challenges. Experiencing cancer did, however, give him an opportunity to notice some things he hadn’t before, and he eventually allowed these new insights to change his approach to life.
Immediately after his seizure, Ryan and Hilary were flooded with messages of support, visits, and offers of assistance from local friends and colleagues, family, members of their church, former mentors, fellow Dartmouth alumni, and even the CEO of T. Rowe Price. He was astounded upon realizing the true size of his network, and felt a restored faith in humanity through the beautiful outpourings of love and support shared by close friends and acquaintances alike.
Ryan also gained a healthy dose of humility. An extraordinarily hard worker and ambitious person, Ryan’s previous experience had been that if he set his mind to something, he could will and work his way toward achieving it. This had worked for him! But cancer’s appearance seemingly out of nowhere, the way it pulled control right out from underneath him, helped Ryan realize that no matter how well he eats or how fit he becomes, and no matter how many hours he puts in at the office, some things are simply out of his control. While this awareness of powerlessness could easily instill fear, the faith with which Ryan was raised and embraces allowed him to accept it, and he was able to use that awareness in developing even deeper gratitude.
It’s easy to predict many of the things for which Ryan’s gratitude would deepen: all of the meals and childcare given to his family, the wonders of modern medicine and his ability to afford the best treatment, the availability of an Ulman Patient Navigator to help guide him through the challenges only young adults face, the willingness of his employer to pay his full salary even when he had to miss some time, his strong faith which gave him hope, and the unfailing support of his wife, among many other blessings. Upon digging deeper, however, Ryan has also developed a deep gratitude for and affirmation of the choices he made before cancer. He’s realized that many of the things he’s thankful for resulted directly from his lifelong investments in building and maintaining relationships, in pursuing academic success, and in creating a robust professional path for himself. When thinking back upon some conversations that occurred between his seizure and his brain surgery, in which friends boldly asked if he was happy with how he’d lived his life so far, he can now boldly answer, “Absolutely!”
That doesn’t mean that there’s no room for slight modifications, however. He and Hilary decided that although the statistics suggest that Ryan’s life expectancy may be reduced, they wanted to “live like he’s going to live, not like he’s going to die.” This meant moving forward with having the second child they had dreamed of — Owen is now two years old!
It also meant creating more time and headspace for life outside the office. Few people take a step back from the fastest path to the top in finance, but then again, few people get and survive brain cancer. Ryan decided, after having his second son, and experiencing an eye-opening second seizure at the office, to take on a less-taxing role at T. Rowe; one that would allow him to continue learning and providing exceptional value to clients and colleagues, while being able to travel, devote time to his faith and family, and appreciate the gift of each new day.
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