Evan Ruggiero was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma just when he was starting his sophomore year in Montclair State University’s prestigious Musical Theatre conservatory. He had just turned 19 on Sept. 19… this was to be his “champagne year” as he called it… being 19 on the 19th. His freshman year at Montclair turned out to be banner in every respect… 4 shows for a freshman performer was unheard of and he garnered the respect and admiration of his professors and peers alike. It seemed that all of his years of schooling and hard work as a tap dancer, singer and actor had paid off. But his champagne year turned out to be something very different.
The diagnosis of Osteosarcoma, a rare bone cancer would come to change his life forever. Cancer can be thought of as a horrible enemy if you let it but Evan has proven that Cancer picked the wrong person to mess with….just when he thought the cancer was gone…and after 9 surgeries to rid his body of cancer and to save his leg…it came back, now aggressively, rapidly growing and invading the soft tissue of Evan’s leg where it had previously been only in the bone. He was faced with the decision to amputate his leg in order to stop the cancer and to save his life. His surgeon believed that he possessed the heart of a young man that could accept this challenge in life and still make his dreams come true. But the road to recovery continued to be saturated with more obstacles than what most people could bear. The physical recovery from the amputation was painful but it did not stop Evan from walking the next day on crutches and accepting the challenge to complete demi plies from his ballet trained, physical therapist. Three weeks after the surgery Evan started the long battle of 9 months of intensive chemotherapy. This resulted in constant set backs and delays due to the complications of chemo and the need for continuous hospitalizations to fight the side effects. If that were not enough, the cancer then metastasized to both lungs necessitating 2 major lung surgeries to remove 12 tumors in all. Due to the nature of Osteosarcoma’s recurrence, it was then suggested that he participate in a clinical trial to increase his likelihood of survival. This involved 48 additional treatments over a period of yet another 9 months.
Through it all, Evan has remained true to the meaning of his name…..Evan, a warrior, a good messenger and a ROCK! Despite all these adversities, Evan has gone on to do some great things…. He returned to school during chemo and surgeries when his doctors advised against it to achieve 24 college credits in 2010-2011, he garnered a lead role in Sweet Charity at MSU, for which he is now nominated for a Kennedy Center Award and he became involved in charitable work raising a combined amount of over $20,000 for rare pediatric cancer research and treatment at Sloan Kettering and for the America Cancer Society, through performances with his band, through Cycle for Survival and through motivational speaking engagements for school children. Most recently, he has diligently worked with his Prosthetist, Bob Austin at Hanger to develop a suitable “peg leg” for tap dancing. Evan had promised himself that he would tap dance again and his motivation was to acknowledge the legend, Peg Leg Bates. Just two days after receiving his peg leg, Evan posted an impromptu video on YouTube and within 24 hours, it had more than 6,000 views. The world was astonished and inspired by his strength, fortitude, determination and grace in achieving such a task. Through it all, Evan continues to be the humble and unassuming young man that he has always been known to be. He is a good friend to all and lives life everyday with his beautiful smile. He has been brave, determined and filled with the goodness and steadfast belief that cancer is no match for the human spirit.
Message of Hope: Thank you for listening to my story. My name is Gina Ruggiero. Evan is my son and I am a proud supporter of Dancers Care Foundation.