I tried to write about my brother James Ragan’s path through the world of cancer and the things we learned from it, but thinking of certain details is too painful.
Maybe it’s just too soon, but the one thing not too soon to think about is the impact the way James lived his life had on the lives of the rest of us.
James’ osteosarcoma story
James was 13 when he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, and overnight he lost nearly everything he had built. He left 7th grade as one of the best athletes in his class and started 8th grade 10 weeks later in a wheelchair. I remember times when James was miserable. He was sick. He was sad. He had no idea what the future held. He was lost.
But every time, he got up, he smiled, said something funny or nice and began to do something positive. Some days he did school work, and when he graduated, he was the salutatorian. Some days he worked to become a better golfer so that when he got to college, he could play Division I golf for the Rice Owls. But most days he worked at cancer.
Building Triumph Over Kid Cancer – and hope for other kids
It started off just visiting other kids with cancer. Then he threw a Toga Party to raise money for cancer. Then he threw a Toga Party and Golf Tournament to raise money for cancer research. Then he started a foundation to Triumph Over Kid Cancer. Then people who knew him began to raise money for the foundation too.
And all the while, James spoke to people, explained the problems of children with cancer — the lack of research funding and the resulting lack of hope in all of those families.
Finally, one day, like many other children with cancer, James died. That was Feb. 17, 2014. James was only 20 years old.
Celebrating James Ragan’s legacy
As time has gone on, our family has realized that James left us something more valuable than any kind of material possession. There are days when I don’t want to get out of bed. But every time, I think of a sick, dying young man who had lost everything, but who always got out of bed to do something positive. And when I see that memory, I have strength to get out of bed.
There are days when I think that I cannot possibly meet the challenges and difficulties I have each day. And then I remember that you never know what you can accomplish until you try with a smile. And that is something that James left everyone who knew him.
The more time I spend with kids with cancer, the more I realize that that is the one thing (besides cancer) they all share — an indefatigable desire to do something good, to not waste their time and to leave behind an impact. And as horrible as the journey of cancer is, I don’t think we would ever have had the understanding of what true suffering is. And more importantly, we would never have known what true strength was without seeing the smiles of those pediatric cancer patients like James as they face the most terrible challenges every day of their lives.
While James and his friends taught us a lot, and changed my parents and I for the better, they’re still a mom and dad who dearly miss their only son, and I’m still just a girl who misses her brother and her best friend every single day.
Named MD Anderson’s first and only Special Ambassador by President Ronald DePinho in 2012, James Ragan is the subject of a powerful new documentary film, “Until 20,” which will be screened at the WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival on Sunday, April 17.