Republished from the Jefferson City News Tribune
COLUMBIA, Mo. — Last summer, Kim Anderson decided to include Missouri coaches’ families in more of the men’s basketball team’s activities. The players got to know Rhyan Loos, the 5-year-old daughter of assistant coach Brad Loos.
“If you met Rhyan, you would just understand that she’s just a ball of energy,” senior Ryan Rosburg said, “always kind of at the center of attention, and whether we were at team dinners or if she was just at the arena hanging out, she was always smiling.”
Now, the team is hoping more people will get to know Rhyan and her story.
Rhyan was diagnosed with cancer in October and has since undergone five rounds of chemotherapy to treat her neuroblastoma. Missouri is dedicating today’s game against Tennessee (2 p.m., SEC Network) to pediatric cancer awareness. Admission to the #RallyForRhyan game is free with a paid donation at the door.
“This is about more than basketball,” Anderson said. “This is about a little girl’s life. It’s about a lot of kids’ lives, and whether or not we’re winning games or losing games, this is much more important than basketball. This is about can we, can all of us, help 5-year-old Rhyan Loos or some other little girl or boy somewhere in the United States?”
As much as the team wants to support Rhyan with today’s game, Brad Loos also hopes to raise awarness for pediatric cancer research at large.
“It’s unfortunate, but pediatric cancer, it’s underfunded. The research is underfunded,” Loos said. “It’s under-supported, and it makes sense. It doesn’t raise a lot of money. It’s not very profitable for the drug companies to put a lot into this, just because there’s not many cases, and so they put their funds elsewhere.
“I think there’s a lot of kids out there that you think (are) getting what they need. You see the St. Jude commercials, and St. Jude’s doing a great job, and you see the American Cancer Society stuff, and they’re doing a great job, but there’s a big group of kids that unfortunately aren’t getting their due diligence.”
The first signs of Rhyan’s cancer came in late August when she developed a limp. It persisted until early October when Loos and his wife Jen decided to get her checked out. The doctor told them to wait to see if Rhyan got a fever, which she did, sending them to a specialist to check for arthritis. The outlook shifted from septic arthritis to leukemia to bone cancer to neuroblastoma.
“I think the first month kind of knocked us back a little bit,” Brad Loos said, “took us a little while to kind of figure out what was going on and then once we were able to wrap our mind around it and kind of figure out what was going on, it’s just been something you deal with.
“I think my wife said it best. We were feeling sorry for ourselves, and she finally stopped us and said, ‘Hey, we can sit around and feel sorry for ourselves all we want, but it’s not going to help the situation, and it’s not going to help Rhyan,’ so once we were able to get over that and, like I said, wrap our mind around it, things have been good.”
The first two rounds of chemo were difficult, Loos said, but the third was particularly tough on Rhyan’s body.
“It was tough on us as parents,” Loos said, “just to see your kid go through that and not be able to do anything to help her.”
Now, recovering from her fifth and final round of chemo, Rhyan is awaiting surgery next month at Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City to remove the tumor on her kidney.
Loos said Rhyan’s white blood cell count is currently at an “acceptable” level and he hopes she will be able to attend today’s game.
“She’s been incredibly tough,” Loos said. “I sit there and I watch her go through chemo and watch what she has to deal with, and I can’t say that I would handle it anywhere as close to as good as she has. She’s a little soldier. She doesn’t like it, and she let’s you know she doesn’t like it, but she deals with it.”
Loos has maintained some of his coaching duties during the process, joking he and his wife agreed it would do more harm than good for him to be home 24-7.
“This has been good for me,” he said of coaching. “It allows me to clear my mind and concentrate on basketball, and it makes me appreciate my wife even more, because she doesn’t get a break.”
Loos said he has received support from New Mexico assistant coach Chris Harriman and Clemson director of operations Kathy Becker, both of whom have dealt with children battling cancer.
“Obviously it’s changed (Loos’) and Jen’s life dramatically,” Anderson said. “But they’ve been very strong. Probably sometimes stronger than me.”
The Looses traveled with Missouri to the Tigers’ game last month at Texas A&M.
“That was big, having Rhyan there,” freshman Terrence Phillips said.
Phillips said he texts Loos to check in on Rhyan, who he called “the same little tough little feisty girl” as the one he met last summer.
The Tigers lost the game at Texas A&M, though they trailed by just four at halftime against the No. 20 Aggies. The loss was Missouri’s fourth in a nine-game losing streak it’s still riding.
Still, Rhyan’s struggle has served as a reminder it could always be worse.
“Obviously, we’re down about losing,” Phillips said. “But we can’t feel sorry for ourselves, because we have nothing to feel sorry for. We’ve got a little girl fighting for her life, and we’ve got to keep her in our thoughts and prayers.”
That lesson isn’t lost on Loos.
“This puts a lot of things in perspective for me as a parent,” Loos said. “I don’t react the same way to losses this year as I did last year. Winning and losing’s important. Don’t get me wrong. It’s what we do. It’s our job.
“But at the end of the day, your family, your children, that’s what’s really important.”
Loos isn’t the only Missouri assistant coping with family health concerns. Assistant coach Corey Tate’s father died Sunday.
Anderson said Tate will be “away some” from the team, though Tate had insisted on working during much of his father’s illness. Tate was recruiting when his father passed away.
“I kept telling him, ‘Just go home. Go. Get away. Go be with your family,’” Anderson said. “And he was like, ‘No, I’m fine. My dad would want me to be here.’”