When Hampden native Ryan Thomas was stricken with osteosarcoma at age 25, he was fortunate to have an insurance plan that covered his many surgeries and chemotherapy sessions.
He also had plenty of emotional support from family and friends to help him cope with his fight against the form of bone cancer that more commonly strikes young children.
But before his death Jan. 2, 2009, at age 27, Thomas also noticed that many of the cancer patients he met while he was being treated didn’t have the same advantages he had, and he tried to do what he could emotionally to keep their spirits up.
As a tribute to Thomas, many of his friends and family are hosting the first Ryan J. Thomas Memorial Golf Tournament on Aug. 22 at Penobscot Valley Country Club in Orono.
Its major purpose is to raise money to help cancer patients, particularly young adults, with some of their financial burden. Some of the money will go to cancer research, and some will go toward a small scholarship fund.
“Young adults, unfortunately, are a forgotten group,” said Amy Corrao of Westbrook, a registered nurse in Portland with a certification in oncology. She met Thomas shortly after he was diagnosed and was his fiancee during the last eight months before he died.
“They’re just out of school, they have to make long trips to get the care they need, pay for lodging and food and other everyday expenses,” said Corrao.
“His heart went out to others for the whole other level of stress they had,” said Adam Waite, a teammate of Thomas on the Hampden Academy football and basketball teams of the mid to late 1990s.
Thomas, who went on to play basketball at the University of Southern Maine and took a job with Wells Fargo in Portland, wasn’t able to help the other patients financially himself, but his ability to offer emotional support was often just as welcome, according to both Waite and Corrao.
“For a lot of people that is the case,” Waite said. “It makes a terrible, uncomfortable situation palatable.”
“He was everyone’s rock. Everyone kind of leaned on him,” Corrao said.
The fact he was 6-foot-8 and weighed about 250 pounds makes it easy to see why people felt they could lean on him. That and his sense of humor.
“He had a dry sense of humor,” said Waite, adding, “I don’t think he ever met someone who didn’t like him. He always had a smile on his face.”
Corrao gave as one example, “He joked about being bald, not even having eyebrows (due to the chemo). Here was this 6-8 goofy guy who was helping others.”
Bob Sinclair was the football coach at Hampden when Thomas played and gave the eulogy at his funeral.
“Coaches who have coached many teams may have some that were special, and that ’98 team was very special,” Sinclair said of the Bronco squad which was the state Class B runner-up.
“Some of the kids like Ryan had leadership roles, and that’s what made it special,” continued Sinclair, who is now at Orono High School.
Occasionally, Thomas would display some enthusiasm on the field, according to Sinclair, “And I’d say, ‘Wow, there’s RT, showing emotion,’ which was uncharacteristic for him because he was a quiet leader. His gentle spirit was a testament to his unselfishness.”
Thomas’ friends had talked about holding a golf tournament in his memory in the two years after he passed, and this time they decided to do it.
Corrao has been the leader for the group, but she is quick to spread the credit.
“Ryan’s dad, Jack, has been a big help, and Wade Millett, who played with Ryan at USM, and Danielle Pinkerton,” said Corrao. Others have also volunteered, helping spread out the workload.
The tournament is a scramble format. Registration starts at 11:30 a.m. followed by a 12:30 p.m. shotgun start and a 5:30 awards presentation, followed by dinner. Many items have been donated, including some by the New England Patriots, Boston Red Sox and Boston Celtics.
The entry fee is $100 per person, $400 for a foursome, and signing up can be done online at www.RyanJThomas.com or by mailing the entry to Ryan J. Thomas Memorial Fund, 47 Colonial Road, Westbrook, ME 04092. The deadline for entries is Wednesday night.
They have 105 players, so far, with room for 144, according to Corrao. She thinks it may be possible to fill the field, but even if they don’t, she thinks they’re off to a good start.
“Hopefully, we’ll have a good push (in the next few days), but even if we don’t get to 144, if we get to 120, we’re pretty impressed with it,” she said.
“He was a great young man, and hopefully this (tournament) will go on for a very long time,” said Sinclair.