Victorious, Giving Back Seems Right For This Cancer Survivor

March 8, 2017
By: Julie Poucher Harbin, Writer, DCI

“We are living more for memories now and trying to do things that are cool to pass along to future generations; that they will remember doing with us,” said cancer survivor Ryan Switzer. The Switzer family enjoyed vacations at Notre Dame (Dec. 2016), Pikes Peak (June 2016), and Lake Michigan (July 2016) last year!  From cancer diagnosis, through treatment, recovery and survivorship, Ryan Switzer hasn’t stopped raising awareness and funds to ensure that others receive the same Duke quality cancer care that he and his family received 

Switzer was 37 in July 2012 when he was diagnosed with stage 2 rectal cancer. He credits his wife with “nagging” him to see a doctor after he began experiencing excruciating fatigue and sporadic rectal bleeding while training for an Ironman Triathlon. Switzer underwent radiation and chemotherapy treatments, multiple surgeries and participated in a clinical trial to test a potential anti-cancer drug (veliparib).

Now a survivor, Switzer is committed to giving back to programs centered on whole family wellness. He believes when caregivers, spouses and children are supported, “stress and worry are also taken off the patient who needs to focus on getting stronger and fighting cancer.” Switzer marries his passion for running, biking and swimming with his philanthropic pursuits.

Moving Further, Faster and with Greater Passion

CRUSH 5K 2016For the past few years he has raised thousands of dollars for the Holt Brothers Foundation, a non-profit supporting two Duke programs that helped Switzer’s daughters cope with his diagnosis — KidsCan! and Camp Kesem at Duke.

These programs are designed for children who have a parent with cancer. Four years ago, Switzer, who was still in treatment, leveraged his participation in an Ironman Triathlon to raise his first $5,000 for the Holt Brothers Foundation. Since that time he has gone on to raise additional funds, and today he serves as chairman of the foundation’s advisory board.

Switzer has also graciously given his time in order to advance research by participating in two Duke-led studies: one focused on KidsCan! and the other, led by his oncologist, Yousuf Zafar, MD, MHS, assessing the financial impacts of cancer on patients and their families. 

A New Outlook, A New Normal

While Switzer's cancer fight made his own family stronger and better equipped to deal with life’s “bumps in the road,” he also understands how cancer can take families to the brink. He considers himself fortunate.

“A diagnosis of cancer is pretty difficult for families and caregivers to go through,” he said. “Fortunately for us, Duke offered great programs and services that helped our family better make our way through what was one of the most challenging times of our lives.”

Switzer’s cancer journey has changed the trajectory of his life. Driven in his efforts to support Duke, he continues to move forward to raise funds.

In fact, Switzer is ready to lace up for the fourth time for the CRUSH Colorectal Cancer 5K and Family Fun Run. He and his team, Semi Colon, have raised more than $3,000 over the past three years. The team hopes to raise over $1,500 this year.

“I like to continue to go to this event to support Duke and pay our great family care forward to help many others defeat cancer!” said Switzer. “Cancer gave our family a little bit better perspective on life; life is short — it’s a gift.” 

The 2017 CRUSH Colorectal Cancer 5K and Walk on Saturday, March 25, on Ninth St., in Durham. Participants are encouraged to form teams and raise funds. For more information or to register, visit CRUSH. You can also keep up with race news and developments on Facebook and Twitter. To donate to or join Ryan Switzer’s team, search for Team Semi Colon

Circle Media Photo: Ryan Switzer and his family attend the 2016 Survivorship Day held at Duke Cancer Center in Durham. Switzer served as keynote speaker at the event.

Watch below to learn more about Ryan Switzer's story. Video produced by Duke Health Marketing.