The basketball aficionados in Lancaster County will likely easily remember Ryan Smith, the Lampeter-Strasburg High School alum who led the Pioneers to their first Lancaster-Lebanon League tournament championship in 2018.
He was a refreshing old-school type of post player not often seen on the hardwood these days, averaging 20.8 points and 11.4 rebounds as a senior en route to being named the L-L Section Two Most Valuable Player and earn an all-state nod.
The 6-foot-10, 240-pound standout then headed to NCAA Division II East Stroudsburg University and put up stellar numbers last season to earn PSAC East Freshman Athlete of the Year honors while helping the warriors capture a division crown and make an appearance in the D-II tournament.
Throughout his time as a hoopster, however, Smith has managed exercise-induced asthma. It’s why he went for a standard checkup last month after feeling tired and lethargic for several weeks.
“I had an asthma appointment. They pricked my finger and measured my hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in the blood, and saw that was low,” Smith said.
Several more tests in the coming days eventually led to a shocking diagnosis: acute myeloid leukemia.
“I’ve had injuries before,” Smith said. “But this is a setback times a thousand.”
Smith was immediately transferred from Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, where he began chemotherapy two weeks ago.
While inpatient at the hospital, Smith’s chemo consisted of a continuous drip of drugs for seven days and a three-day dosage of another drug given through injection. He also received a heart medicine that is typically given to children that have AML - the drug serves to protect the heart long term.
“The first three days it was really bad nausea,” Smith said when asked about the side effects. “I didn’t want to eat anything. The cancer itself gives you fevers, mostly at night. So it’s hard to get through that. And your body hurts. Flu-like symptoms.”
Smith wrapped up his initial rounds of chemo last week and will remain inpatient at the hospital for at least another few weeks before undergoing further testing to see if the drugs did their job.
Meanwhile, Smith has been overwhelmed and encouraged by the support from others.
“I’ve just gotten so much outreach from back home in Lancaster County, and all the people in East Stroudsburg have reached out,” he said. “Cards and all that.”
I’ll be back 🙌🏻 thank you for all the thoughts and prayers that you all have sent to me. It means the world to me— Ryan Smith (@rsm1th_) August 16, 2019
As you might imagine, Smith has put school and basketball on hold for now.
“My plan is to just take off this semester and then see where I’m at,” he said.
More than 21,000 people are diagnosed with AML each year, and the 5-year survival rate for people 20 and older with the disease is approximately 24 percent, according to cancer.net.
“The cure rate is not the greatest for what I have but that’s on an overall kind of consensus,” Smith said. “I’ve been told to take in the fact I’m 20 and in the best shape of my life. So my percentage (of survival) is much higher.”
Smith said he’s been leaning on his Christian faith, what he’s learned as an athlete, and support from others to help push him ahead in his battle.
“My faith has been everything,” he said. “My parents are around. Teammates and coaches have been visiting. The support system has been incredible.”
You can continue to follow Smith’s journey on caringbridge.org, where Smith’s parents have been providing updates on their son’s health while plenty of others have been leaving messages of encouragement.