Miracle man: Principal says he's proof of power of prayer
ST ANTHONY'S Primary School principal Paul Ryan is living proof of the power of prayer - in particular the power of kids' prayer.
Through six separate battles with cancer, including his earliest fight when he was given just three months to live at the young age of 33, it was the prayers of his family, friends and school students that ultimately got him through.
However, he freely admits to being left with doubts and his faith seriously tested during the dark days of his fights with cancer, particularly during his latest battle just last year.
Priding himself on enjoying a fit and healthy lifestyle, Mr Ryan was out running when cancer first struck.
"I was principal of a school in Boggabri (Sacred Heart Primary School) in 2002 and I went for a run," he said.
"It was the dead of winter and I was a fair way from home when I collapsed.
"I had awful pain and everything went yellow."
He was diagnosed with GIST (gastro-intestinal stromal tumour) which left him with a 16.5cm malignant tumour on his stomach wall.
"It was just like in the movies. The doctor came in looking forlorn.
"He said 'there's nothing we can do' and told me to go home and get my affairs in order.
"They gave me three months."
With the thought of leaving his wife Louise and their first child, Lily, behind, Mr Ryan's prayers were answered when he received a phone call from out of the blue.
"A week later I got a call from a surgeon who said he was prepared to have a go but there were no guarantees.
"They removed the thing and I was back at work five weeks later.
"I've never had to wear a bag or anything and I used to joke at the time that wearing a bag was alright but whether I could get one to match my shoes.
"You've got to have a sense of humour at those times in your life."
Told by doctors he couldn't have any more children, another miracle arrived a year later when son Jack was born.
The next five years were cancer free until the GIST returned in 2007, a double dose in 2008 and again in 2009.
"Eventually I was put on (drug) Glivec which keeps the cancer at bay and doesn't allow it to grow," Mr Ryan said.
To date, everything is clear.
However, during all this time, Mr Ryan was not just battling the demons of illness but still working as principal of St Mary's Catholic School in Goondiwindi.
"We had eight years in Goondiwindi and the people were very supportive, as they usually are in a country town.
"I had all the pressures and stress associated with running a school and being a faith leader and dealing with the illness.
"While we were there, the school went from 200 students to 400 students and the pressure there became a bloody good distraction."
Things were on the up, and the Ryans moved to Toowoomba where Mr Ryan took up the principal's position at St Anthony's Primary School.
Then, what he describes as news that "rocked us to the core", Mr Ryan was last June diagnosed with prostate cancer.
"We went into a dark place.
"(Wife) Louise has been a force of strength during what basically has been a shocking time."
Mr Ryan admitted the stress had even put a strain on their marriage and he found his faith tested.
"The big question was what were all these prayers for and for a six-month period I found it difficult to go to Mass.
"It was hard to understand because I had always been fit and healthy. It turned out I was fit but not healthy.
"I consider myself the healthiest cancer patient by far.
"But once on the other side, it's a humbling experience because of all the support and prayers we received."
After coming through all that he, and his family, has had to endure, Mr Ryan is convinced in the power of prayer.
"Particularly in the power of kids' prayers," he said.
"It wasn't just the kids from our school, but there were hundreds of kids from a number of schools praying for my health.
"I think it's important that the kids know that their prayers are important."
Mr Ryan's health now restored, he is back walking and running with his wife and playing touch football for his club Sharks.