Terry Ryan had planned to spend Tuesday flying to Fort Myers, Fla., for spring training. Instead, he will spend the day on an operating table at the Mayo Clinic, having some lymph nodes — and a cancerous lump that developed in his neck last month — removed.
The Twins general manager was diagnosed with squamous cell cancer last week, the team announced Monday, and he will not attend the start, or perhaps any, of camp in Florida this year. After the lump is extracted, the 60-year-old Ryan likely will require radiation treatments to eradicate any lingering cancer cells and prevent a recurrence.
“There was cancer nowhere else, and that’s very good news,” said Dr. Vijay Eyunni, the Twins team physician. “The prognosis at this point [is], we’re very optimistic” that it will be completely cured, though it’s too early to predict when he might be healthy enough to return to work.
Assistant GM Rob Antony will take charge of the team while Ryan is away, making decisions about the roster and transactions with input from longtime director of player personnel Mike Radcliff and manager Ron Gardenhire, as well as the on-field and front-office staffs.
“I started asking him questions — how do you want me to handle this or that?” Antony said of a meeting Thursday, when Ryan revealed his condition. “He just looked at me and basically said, ‘You’ve been around here long enough. You’ve been in all these meetings. Just go down and do your thing. You know what you’re doing.’ It felt good that he had that kind of confidence in me.”
Ryan also has confidence, which his doctors share, that the cancer can be dealt with permanently. Late last month during a routine annual physical, he asked Eyunni to examine a lump, an inch in diameter and unusually hard, that had appeared a few weeks earlier. After ruling out a cyst, Eyunni conducted a biopsy, which found the lump to be cancerous. Further examination could find no source for the cancer, however, nor any more cancerous cells in any other part of his body.
The normal treatment, particularly when found early as in this case, is to surgically remove the affected cells and use radiation to eradicate the disease. Ryan checked into Mayo Clinic in Rochester on Monday, conferred with specialists and, Eyunni said, probably would undergo surgery Tuesday. He likely will remain hospitalized for two or three days before returning to his Eagan home.
“He wanted to hit it head-on, then move on,” Eyunni said. “ ‘Let’s get this taken care of right away, as usual. You know how he talks.’ ’’
“It’s a difficult day any time a loved one is diagnosed with cancer,” Twins President Dave St. Peter said. “That said, we know that Terry is in the best medical hands in the country, and we share his high level of confidence that better days are ahead, and he’ll be back at in the relatively near future.”
He won’t, however, be in Fort Myers when pitchers and catchers report Sunday, or when camp opens next week. But the Twins’ operation hardly will change at all, Antony said. Who to cut, what moves to make — all will be made by consensus. Antony said Ryan will be kept up to date on the team, and his input will be sought as much as his health allows.
“We all believe the same things that Terry does. We’ll do it the same way we always did, just with one fewer person,” Antony said. “Terry was always the final, authoritative call, but Gardy always has his say, Mike and I give our opinions, and we talk it out. We never had a lot of situations where we disagreed or where we say, ‘Flip a coin.’ ”
Ryan has been with the Twins since 1986, and is in his second stint as GM. He held the post from September 1994 until the end of the 2007 season, then served as a special assistant to Bill Smith before returning to the position on Nov. 7, 2011. Antony, a 27-year Twins employee, has been his top assistant ever since.
“Baseball is baseball, [but] this is a friend,’’ Gardenhire said. ‘‘Terry is as tough as they come and he will meet this head on. Baseball will go on — we’ll do what we have to do. It is all about getting him well.”
Ryan and his wife, Karilyn, have two grown children, “and I know they were a concern for him,” Antony said. “He was struggling with thinking about how his kids were going to take it, and I know his wife was having a tough time.”
Ryan expresses optimism
He released a statement Monday, though, emphasizing that “I’ve been assured this form of cancer is treatable, and [I] remain optimistic about my return to good health in the near future.’’
Ryan’s statement also thanked Eyunni, “as well as the doctors and medical staff at the Mayo Clinic and Minnesota Oncology. In addition, we are grateful for the many friends and colleagues who have sent their well-wishes and support throughout this challenging time. It’s my intention to see you back at the ballpark as soon as possible.”