"It's about challenging yourself." Shawn Ryan, a Sergeant and Station Commander with the New York State Police, knows about meeting challenges head-on. Whether it is completing a 100-mile bicycle ride, running a half marathon, training a 150-pound Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, or living every day with chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML), Shawn's focus is clear. "I was forced to realize that any day could be my last, and I should live my life accordingly." This explains why Shawn continues to find new and different ways to challenge himself both physically and mentally. Even before he knew he had CML, Shawn was aware that life is not something to be taken for granted - his son, Alex, has diabetes. In fact, Shawn was training for a cycling ride to benefit the American Diabetes Association when he was diagnosed in 2004 with CML. Throughout his recovery, cycling has been his 'litmus test' to monitor the healing process. In 2005 Shawn completed the Century (100-mile) Highlander Cycle Tour in New York's beautiful Finger Lakes region and he has taken up a half-marathon challenge. This fall he and Alex will compete in the Adirondack Half-Marathon. Alex is "a running phenom," according to his father, and is Shawn's "inspiration to keep going in running and in life." With an appreciation for "how wonderful and tenuous life is," Shawn also takes time to reflect, to write and to "dabble" in black and white photography. But uppermost in Shawn's thoughts is family, and most of his nonworking time is spent cherishing what is most important to him - Sandy, his wife of almost 17 years, son Alex, and daughter Sianna. The Ryans live in "one of the best areas of the country for outside recreation," in Shawn's words - the Adirondacks of upstate New York - and enjoy canoeing, hiking, and kayaking. They share their home with four cats and three dogs, one of whom ("Hemingway") Shawn plans to train as a therapy dog and to compete in shows and pulling contests.
Besides fundraising for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the American Diabetes Association, Shawn serves on his local Leukemia & Lymphoma Society chapter's Patient Services Committee and as a volunteer with the Society's First Connections Program, which pairs trained leukemia survivors with newly diagnosed CML patients. For Shawn, "the most incredible thing about this program (First Connections) is that it gives you, as a scared-out-of-your-mind person - who a week ago was fine and now has leukemia - a sense that things are going to be all right. You learn that while things might never get back to what you thought of as normal, there is a new normal, which isn't all that bad, either." The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society nominated Shawn to participate in the FY05 CMLRP Peer Review Panel. Although open to the new and interesting, he had no idea what was in store for him. "Before you face a life-changing illness, medical research and funding [are just] more of the amorphous background noise of life. Then, when you find yourself dealing with a disease, any bit of information about medical research feels like a life ring thrown to a drowning manů" Shawn, working alongside CML researchers and scientists in peer review, says that his participation brought him one of the most profound experiences he'd had since his diagnosis: "I was blown away by the number and wide scope of the research proposals. I was profoundly struck by the caliber of people dedicated to finding a cure for CML. I walked away feeling that with this kind of brain-power and support working for a cure, it is, seriously, only a matter of time."
Shawn will retire from the police force in about eight years. Enough time to prepare for his next challenge: To attend law school. Shawn's adventure continues!