“ The doctors will tell you “what” to do, “how” to do it, and maybe “why” if you ask enough questions. You will have to think the opposite way. Start with the “why” always. If your “why” is strong enough, the “how” and the “what” become easy.
Ryan Vanshur is one busy mAss Kicker! Ryan is the co-founder and VP of Sales and Marketing at CourseKey, Inc. – a higher education classroom engagement tool that leverages students existing smart devices to create a more interactive and data-driven approach to teaching in the modern learning environment. Ryan is a U.S. Army Veteran who served between 2004 and 2008 He was diagnosed with non-hodgkin’s lymphoma in July 2014. Ryan has done some amazing things and has overcome many obstacles. We are very honored to interview him as the latest “Featured mAss Kicker”.
mK: Thanks for doing this Ryan. How did you find out about your diagnosis?
RV: I had just moved down to San Diego after getting accepted into San Diego State University and started to have a long string of odd symptoms with no health care at the time. After about a month of deteriorating I went in for an interview to try and apply for low-cost health insurance and ended up blacking out from hyperventilation in the interview. I woke up in the emergency room and after a quick biopsy my doctor gave me the news, T-Cell Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.
mK: Whoa, did you have any other symptoms?
RV: Initially the symptoms were more awkward then anything. It felt like a hand was lightly squeezing my neck ALL the time, I had these weird little purple veins popping up all over my chest and ribs, and I would wake up drenched in sweat in the middle of the night. Soon I started to eat a lot less, I couldn’t workout, run, swim at the beach anymore, and my lymph nodes swelled up everywhere.
mK: How are you doing now? What are you up to?
RV: Today I am cancer-free and graduated from San Diego State. I ended up sticking it out and kept going to school while doing my two years of chemotherapy. I spent 10 days of every month in the hospital and the rest trying to recover both my health and my missed classes and assignments. As soon as I was healthy enough to start my life again, I started an education technology company with some students at SDSU, CourseKey, and we are now an investment-backed, post-revenue company with over 20 full-time employees.
mK: That is AWESOME! So, what motivates you?
RV: My daughter, my wife, and my second chance. I was 26 when I was diagnosed and I am 30 now. I remember the feeling of being told I had a 30% chance to live and thinking about all the dreams, goals, and ideas I had been talking about for most of my adult life that were not even close to being accomplished. I knew I would let a lot of people down if I did not find a way to make it through. In the 4 years since my diagnosis I have accomplished more for myself, my family, my community, and my company than I had done my entire first 25 years of my life. You can’t get the opportunity at a second chance and be cute with it, you have to sprint after whatever you can get until that window closes.
mK: You definitely appreciate things more! Who is your personal hero or are your heroes?
RV: A personal hero of mine is Dr. Eric Thomas. During my treatment I would listen to his motivational tapes every morning to get out of bed. I had him screaming in my ear daily to push myself further than I was willing to go the day before. When I couldn’t eat, my body ached, and my spirit was depleted – the headphone coaching pulled me through. I actually was able to meet him when I raised $17,000 to bring him out to SDSU for a campus-wide motivational event I organized for local at-risk high school students. I was able to thank Dr. Thomas, my family and friends, doctors and nurses, and the entire SDSU campus for supporting me through my battle.
mK: What makes you laugh, cry, angry?
RV: My daughter cracks me up! Onions make me cry. And a lack of personal progress can make me angry.
mK: Hee hee… onions… What would you say is the most interesting thing you’ve ever done?
RV: I had my daughter when I was 16, joined the U.S. Army at 17 ½, overcame cancer when I was 26, started the first company in my family’s history at 28, and graduated as a first-generation college student at 30. But I still do not think I have done the most interesting thing I will do just yet. I can’t wait to see what it is though.
mK: Wow! What is the toughest challenge a survivor faces?
RV: The internal battle. I remember putting on shows for people so that everyone would assume things were ok. Very few actually knew the gun-fire type sounds going off in my head. The constant frustration, anger, and low self-esteem. Everyone is always asking “why me”? The day I accepted things my mom had told me something I will never forget. She works on family medicine and told me years back she heard the statistic that 1 in 4 will get cancer in their lifetime. As a mother of 4 kids she started to think about how that meant one of her kids would statistically as well. This is where she says “I remember thinking if one of my kids had to get cancer I always hoped it would be you.” It threw me off for a second but then she explained that I was always the “strongest” of us and if anyone could beat it, I could. Challenge accepted.
mK: What is your guilty pleasure?
RV: I have been sharing my story more frequently and am finding my passion is in motivational and educational speaking. I love the feeling of talking to a crowd of students or adults and meeting with them after an event. Hearing their stories, how they connected with my message, and what changes they will be making as a result of the time they invested in that program or event is the ultimate rush for me.
mK: How would you describe your life in 20 words or less?
RV: A movie based on Murphy’s Law and Organized Chaos, with me as the hero and the villain.
mK: What are is next on your agenda?
RV: Building CourseKey into a leading education company and impact as many lives as I can until my ticket gets called again.
mK: Any advice for people or loved ones that get daunting diagnoses?
RV: When everyone else is working from the “outside-in” to save your life, you have to be working form the “inside-out.” The doctors will tell you “what” to do, “how” to do it, and maybe “why” if you ask enough questions. You will have to think the opposite way. Start with the “why” always. If your “why” is strong enough, the “how” and the “what” become easy.
mK: Tell us something about yourself that people probably didn’t know… anything.
RV: My GPA actually went up during the two years of college I stuck it out in full-time coursework and went through non-ho. Everyone told me I would compromise my grades and scholarships…
mK: Any parting words for all the mAss Kickers?
RV: Keep Kicking mAss!
Ryan Vanshur: Chemotherapy-academic maven, entrepreneur, public speaker, young father, “Onion crier”, Dr. Eric Thomas disciple, and goal-oriented cancer thriver. Thanks for doing the interview Ryan. We look forward to seeing what you do next. Check out his start-up, CourseKey when you get the chance.