Check Your Nuts: How a Massachusetts Kid Beat Testicular Cancer and the Boston Marathon
Updated: May 1
Ryan Vallancourt was any normal high school kid. He was the star athlete of his class, and he had lots of friends in school.
The Whitman-Hanson Panthers basketball team was one of the best in the state of Massachusetts in 2020-2021, even capturing a state title, so it was now on the senior captain to lead his team to more success moving forward.
During an AAU game in the summer leading up to his senior season, Vallancourt's life would flip upside-down. He went up for a lefty lay-up through traffic and immediately felt a shooting pain in his lower region. Vallancourt noticed this right away, but wanted to keep playing.
"It like sent a shock throughout my whole body" said Vallancourt. "I didn't think of testicular cancer."
After the game, Vallancourt checked himself and asked his mother, who is a nurse, for her opinion. Next came an emergency room visit, where they told him he had testicular cancer. The next day, Vallancourt would need surgery to remove his right testicle. In the span of 48 hours, his life had changed forever.
Vallancourt worried that his cancer diagnosis would deter him from the game he loved so much: Basketball.
"My first thought was 'Am I going to be able to play?' I was slated to have a big year" Vallancourt wondered.
Bob Rodgers is the boys basketball head coach at Whitman-Hanson and has known Vallancourt since he was young. Vallancourt would attend Panther Basketball Camp in the summer, where Coach Rodgers would demonstrate drills to improve one's skills as a basketball player. Vallancourt could be found at this camp every summer.
"I remembered how much he loved the game at such a young age...He was ahead of his peers," said Rodgers.
"You could tell that the things that he would learn in camp, and the things that he would do, that he would go home and practice them because he would come back and and get better at it" Rodgers added.
Vallancourt would be fortunate enough to complete chemotherapy and defeat his cancer before his senior season, and was able to play for the Panthers.
"I looked to my aunt for strength" said Vallancourt when discussing how he was able to keep a level headed mind throughout the process.
Vallancourt's aunt, Mary Ellen Coffey, had a cancer battle of her own, which lasted for several years. Unfortunately, she died of breast cancer just about a year ago on April 6. Vallancourt was extremely close with her, as they bonded closely over the struggles they went through together.
For someone that said he would most likely never get a tattoo, he felt that it was an honorable way to repay his aunt for helping him pave the way towards a new beginning. He got the words "Keep fighting the good fight", which was something she used to tell him often, engraved on his arm forever.
Vallancourt's senior season was not easy by any means. With hair loss due to chemotherapy, he was an easy target for rude kids in the student sections of other team's gymnasiums.
"I would always contact the other athletic director before our games, and just let them know that I have this player," said Rodgers. "It's just despicable to me that anybody could be that way to a cancer patient. He has more character in his pinky than those kids have in their entire body, and that just speaks to them more than anything else."
After completing his senior season, Vallancourt looked at what else he could do in the future. His father Russ had run the Boston Marathon in 2011, and his mother Laurice ran it in 2017, so naturally, Vallancourt felt like it was his turn next. But he wouldn't be running for himself...
He teamed up with One Mission, a charity regarding pediatric cancer awareness, something near and dear to Vallancourt's heart.
"I wanted to do something to raise money for cancer" said Vallancourt.
One Mission Events & Community Relations Coordinator Dana Tuccelli was also in awe of Vallancourt and his decision to run with One Mission.
"Ryan was an incredible addition to our One Mission Boston Marathon team this year. Ryan’s personal story motivated him to not only want to run the Boston Marathon, but also give back and raise money to support children who are fighting cancer." Tuccelli said. "He has seen first-hand what life is like for the patients who are bravely fighting. He is an amazing advocate for One Mission, and all of his hard work and fundraising efforts is making a difference in the lives of the patients and families we help."
Vallancourt put himself through rigorous training for months to get in shape for the race. It was very important to him that he perform well while running during Testicular Cancer Awareness Month.
"I've ran probably over 350 miles" said Vallancourt when asked about how much preparation he did for the big race. "I got all my training tips from my dad."
He would run wherever he could, often running out of his front door and not returning home until at least 10 miles were completed.
Soon enough, Marathon Monday would come and Vallancourt was ecstatic. He would be lucky enough to run alongside some of Boston's most beloved athletes including Zdeno Chara and Brock Holt.
He would finish the race in just under four and a half hours (4:28:37). For someone who hates running, he did slightly better than the world marathon average of 4:29:53.
Vallancourt's journey wasn't just impressive, it was inspirational. Through all of the physical and mental pain of defeating cancer, he wanted to keep pushing and find something else to hold onto, to fight for.
This stuck heavily to one of Vallancourt's closest friends, Ryan McDonald.
"I've known Ryan for as long as I can remember. Our parents met before both of us were even born," said McDonald. "Words can't express how proud I am of him. When I found out he had cancer, I knew he was going to kick its ass. And then to run a marathon after is truly an inspiration and he's now given me a whole new understanding of what it means to fight through adversity."
The pair met through their parents, as the Vallancourt family had originally lived in the house that the McDonald family would go on to purchase. Since then, two people could never be closer than they are.
Most people spend their whole lives trying to find a way to make a difference in the world. At just 19-years-old, Vallancourt has accomplished more than most kids his age, and he likely isn't done yet.
If you would like to donate to pediatric cancer alongside Ryan, visit his GivenGain page, where he has raised over $12,000.