Don’t Take Life for Granted
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Throughout Dan Ryckert’s childhood, many of his favorite memories involved spending time with his cousin Matt, who was just two years older than him. They grew up together in Kansas, and he was more of a big brother than a cousin.
“Matt introduced me to so many new experiences—video games, outdoor activities like fishing, and even my first beer. Some of my favorite memories are of the two of us huddled together at his dad’s gas station playing video games and having Super Nintendo marathons at our grandma’s house during weekend sleepovers,” Dan recalled. In fact, Dan has Matt to thank for introducing him to many of his favorite video game series, and Dan’s passion for video games led to his career in the video gaming industry.
Last summer, Matt started experiencing abdominal pain and wasn’t sleeping well, and his doctor referred him to a specialist for some tests. On October 25, 2022, Matt texted Dan that he had cancer, and he was waiting for more test results to determine the type of cancer. He wrote that if it turned out to be pancreatic cancer, like the doctors suspected, it could be a death sentence. “I just kept thinking that this couldn’t really be happening to someone who was such a huge part of my life,” Dan remembered.
Dan and his entire family were completely shocked and utterly devastated when Matt was diagnosed with Stage IV pancreatic cancer that had already spread to his liver, lungs, and gall bladder. He was only 40 years old, active and otherwise healthy. Because Matt was adopted, he didn’t know the details of his birth family’s health history and if he had an inherited genetic mutation that would have predisposed him to getting this life-threatening disease.
Matt’s cancer was inoperable, so his doctors prescribed a regimen of chemotherapy, immunotherapy and gene therapy. However, after one round of chemotherapy that his body was just too weak to handle, his doctors had to stop the treatment, and he never left the hospital. Matt’s nine-year-old daughter went through the heartbreak of watching her beloved dad grow sicker. Matt’s parents, Dan’s Aunt Diane and Uncle Gary, didn’t leave Matt’s hospital room, afraid to miss even one moment of their son’s life, upended by such an unexpected and vicious disease.
Matt’s health continued to deteriorate rapidly, and he passed away on November 20, 2022, less than one month after his diagnosis and before Dan and his family had enough time to even process his diagnosis. This experience has given Dan a new, more appreciative perspective and is a harsh reminder that nothing lasts forever and people shouldn’t take anything for granted, especially their health.
Dan always assumed there would be time to catch up during his annual trip home for the holidays, where he and Matt seemed to just continue their close relationship as if no time apart had passed between them. “I made the mistake of taking for granted that Matt would always be there for me,” Dan said. “It still feels surreal that he’s gone, and my family is left with immeasurable grief, pain, and loss.”
Dan’s Uncle Gary and Aunt Diane requested that people donate to the Lustgarten Foundation in Matt’s memory in lieu of flowers, and Gary mentioned he hoped there was something the family could do to increase pancreatic cancer awareness and raise money to fund research. Dan reviews video games for a living and runs a video game podcast called the Fire Escape Cast with two friends, and every year they host a “Game of the Year” awards ceremony, which attracts their largest audience. Dan decided to turn this award show into a live-streaming fundraiser using the Twitch platform, which has a charity tool so people can donate live.
For the fundraiser, Dan and his friends discussed video games for six hours to raise money for the Lustgarten Foundation, and during that time he shared Matt’s story and asked his audience to donate in Matt’s memory or in honor of someone else who is facing pancreatic cancer. “I emphasized that people could give with confidence, as 100% of every donation to the Lustgarten Foundation directly funds research,” Dan added.
To encourage his followers to donate, he used a tracker to show the progress in raising money toward the targeted amount. He read aloud the names of fans who contributed so he could thank them in real-time for their donations during the fundraiser.
Matt’s parents, Dan, and their entire family are incredibly grateful for Dan’s followers’ generosity in supporting the fundraiser in Matt’s memory. Thousands of people tuned in live, and many more listened to the recorded version of the podcast. Together, they raised $10,000 for the most groundbreaking pancreatic cancer research in critical areas such as early detection and new treatments—both of which could have given Matt the cherished gift of more time with his family, and especially with his adoring daughter.
“While Matt didn’t have a chance to benefit from this research, I know he’d be so grateful for the unwavering commitment of the Lustgarten Foundation to fund research that will help save the lives of future patients and ensure other families don’t have to mourn their loved ones as we did,” Dan said.