Bethesda boy hopes to inspire nation with his cancer fight

Ryan Darby, pictured with a painted head, endured more than three years of chemotherapy to treat his acute lymphoblastic leukemia. (Courtesy Darby family)

WASHINGTON — He waged a very personal war on cancer and won — and now a 12-year-old middle schooler from Bethesda is taking his fight nationwide.

Ryan Darby was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia when he was 6 years old. He endured three-and-a-half years of treatment that he describes as “pretty horrible.”

There were good days and bad, but there was always hope, and through it all, Darby was determined to become cancer free.

“Cancer has made me who I am — it formed me intro what I am today,” he says with the voice of a child and the poise of an adult.

His doctors at the MedStar Georgetown University Hospital were so impressed with his resolve that they urged the Darby family to consider applying for a big honor: the national youth ambassador’s program run by Hyundai Hope on Wheels — a nonprofit organization that funds pediatric research programs around the country.

At first — fresh from treatment — Ryan declined to even apply. But a few years out from the grind of chemotherapy, he had a change of heart and impressed the people that run Hope on Wheels so much that he was chosen in a nationwide competition.

“I am going to be going around the country raising awareness of childhood cancer and raising money for research,” says Darby, who along with 12-year-old Hannah Adams from Jacksonville, Florida, will be spreading the message over the next two years.

They actually will have two jobs: reminding adults of the perils of pediatric cancer, and reaching out to kids still in treatment.

“I am going to convince them that they can beat cancer just like I did,” says Darby, who adds, “I love letting them know there is someone else who is fighting for them”

The two-year travel commitment will be challenging for his family, but it will be nothing compared to Darby’s more than three years of chemotherapy.

Dad Chris Darby speaks with pride when asked about his son and all he has accomplished.

“Cancer picked the wrong kid,” he says, remembering his son’s long battle against the disease.

And even though there will be a lot of schedule juggling in the next couple years, Darby, his dad and his mom — Mollie Darby — all say they would not miss it for the world.

Chris Darby says they are all guided by his child’s firm belief that no child should die from cancer. He gives his son a knowing smile and says. “let’s beat it like he did.”

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