Ryan Smith Fundraiser-Millersville University

Ryan Smith, center, with his parents Kim Smith, left, and Craig Smith, right, while they watch the game, as Friends, family, and teammates come out to support Ryan Smith, former L-S hoops standout and current East Stroudsburg player who has been stricken with cancer, at a women/men doubleheader basketball game at Millersville University Monday Jan. 6, 2020.

Wash your hands. If soap and water aren’t available, use hand sanitizer.

Stay away from large crowds.

Those are a few of the recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control to guard against getting the new coronavirus.

But Lampeter-Strasburg grad Ryan Smith has been following these protocols before anyone knew a thing about the virus.

“What people are doing now, this is what I’ve been doing for eight months,” Smith said. “This is what I’m used to. I’m not going out in public and seeing as many people as I used to, but I’ve been washing hands and keeping clean.”

Smith has been in a battle with acute myeloid leukemia since August 2019, putting a pause on a basketball career that led to him being named the 2018-19 PSAC East Freshman of the Year after a stellar rookie campaign at East Stroudsburg University.

Before cancer, the 6-foot, 10-inch Smith had bulked up to 245 pounds. By October, he was down to 188 pounds, largely a result of rhabdomyolysis, an illness that nearly took his life while in intensive care at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

Those dark times have given him perspective as the world is now grappling with a pandemic.

“I don’t know, it just seems like since I came out of the ICU (intensive care unit) and stared death in the face, things now don’t really faze me too much,” he said. “It’s hard to explain. God has your plan and you can’t really alter your plan because no matter what you do, God knows what the next step is.”

The next step for Smith is what he hopes will be the final one of his cancer journey. He’s scheduled for a stem cell transplant April 21, which will be preceded by four days of chemotherapy.

“It’s a simple process just giving you stem cells of the donor through an IV,” Smith said. “That will suppress my old immune system enough to where the new immune system can take over and graft into my bone marrow. The biggest challenge is my body rejecting the new stem cells. The main worry is this thing called acute graft-versus-host disease. It’s basically a rejection of those stem cells.”

Smith will be receiving the transplant at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. He’ll remain there for the first month after the transplant before returning home, where he’ll be confined for two months in order to lessen his chances of getting sick.

“He’s pretty much in isolation,” father Craig Smith said. “For those first three months ... he won’t have much of an immune system.”

Smith plans to pass the time inside the family’s garage that he’s currently converting into a home gym, purchasing equipment with money raised for him by the East Stroudsburg University Student-Athlete Advisory Committee.

“I bought a decent amount of stuff,” he said. “A squat rack with multiple cable columns, a bench, some free weights, a trap bar and a straight bar. A stationary bike.”

Smith said he’s up to 200 pounds, and physical therapy three times a week has improved the nerves in his feet. He said he’s coming down the homestretch.

“I think I’m in that mindset. This is the last step in my journey almost,” he said. “This is the final push. I’m extra motivated to get through this.”