Ryan Gainor

Lawyer & Husband, and Stage IV Tongue Cancer Survivor; Rhode Island



In the summer of 2013, Ryan left his position at the New York law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom to accept a law clerk position for a federal judge in Providence, Rhode Island. He and his wife, Ali, were thrilled, as it was a realization of a long-term goal, as well as returning home to his native Rhode Island. Cancer was the farthest from their thoughts.

In the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas of that year, Ryan’s tongue began to hurt, and he assumed he had bit it and just hadn’t noticed. He thought that perhaps the new toothpaste he started using might be irritating his mouth. After several weeks of discomfort, however, he mentioned to his wife that he was experiencing some pain. She quickly looked at it and thought his tongue looked strange.

Luckily, Ryan’s mother, a long-time office manager for a primary care physician, scheduled an appointment for him for the following day. The physician examined his tongue and became concerned, and immediately referred Ryan to an ear nose and throat specialist who performed a biopsy. Later that week, the results came back that Ryan had tongue cancer.

“Though I had a difficult time comprehending my diagnosis, I was extremely fortunate at how quickly things moved. The same day of my diagnosis, I had an appointment with Daniel Deschler, a surgeon at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary,” explained Ryan. “He scheduled me for surgery the next week, and we planned as aggressive an approach as possible since I was only 30 years old.”

Through surgery, it was discovered that Ryan’s cancer had spread to his lymph nodes, and he received a Stage IV Tongue cancer diagnosis. His medical team set an aggressive treatment plan: 35 radiation treatments followed by eight weeks of chemotherapy.

Ryan was hospitalized on three occasions when he developed blood clots. He also struggled with eating, lost his sense of taste, and was fed through a feeding tube.

After months of treatment, scans revealed Ryan was cancer free. In April 2014, he returned home to Rhode Island to begin the long process of healing. His path to recovery was long, with months of slow progress.

“My cancer journey is not a sad story. I still struggle some days, and the months after my diagnosis were the most trying, difficult, and painful of my life. But my medical team was amazing. My community took care of me. And upon reflection, I have fond memories of the strong friendships I have and the power of family. Friends from around the country came to our house to spend time with me,” said Ryan. “We still talk about those days, and the good times we had in spite of what was going on. But in the end, I was extremely fortunate to receive my diagnosis when I did.”

Ryan’s video story can also be viewed on the HNCA’s Youtube or on our website.

To request Ryan for your local event, please contact us at info@headandneck.org or complete the online form.

1-866-792-HNCA (4622)




I’m not a parent, nor would I ever tell parents what’s best for their own children. But if I was a parent, I would have my daughters and sons vaccinated against HPV. It might save their life.Steve Holzer
Survivor of HPV-attributed Tongue and Neck Cancer

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