"Be strong, be brave," are words that 8-year-old Ryan Hardy lives by.

"Be strong, be brave," are words that 8-year-old Ryan Hardy lives by.

Those also are the words his Alum Creek Elementary School teachers, Allison Saksa and Lauren Hirsh, selected for a fundraising effort on Ryan's behalf. The sayings are being printed on T-shirts that are being sold for $12 each through the school's Parent Teacher Organization.

Since age 2, Ryan has been battling -- "like a trooper" -- a pilocytic astrocytoma brain tumor, said his father Jeff Hardy and mother Laurie Hardy.

"He's had three craniotomies -- brain surgeries to remove as much of the tumor as they can -- six years of chemotherapy and 30 radiation treatments," said Jeff Hardy. "He's been through more than any child should have to be. ... He's a trooper -- never complains, never asks, 'Why me?'"

Two days before Christmas, Ryan was diagnosed with leukemia. When school resumed after Christmas break, Ryan wrote to his second-grade classmates about the reason for his absence -- "I've got leukemia, which means my blood isn't cooperating," he wrote.

"I told them how (because of the chemotherapy) I can get sick very easily, so I have to stay in the house," Ryan said in an interview.

Ryan's favorite academic subject is math. "I like to do subtraction and multiplication," he said.

He enjoys reading the "Magic Tree House" series, and has read up to book five.

Playing outside is his favorite pastime. He also enjoys swimming and learning to rollerblade.

"But you can't do that stuff when you have the PIC on (a catheter for chemotherapy), plus it's the middle of winter; you can't do that," Ryan said. "I like playing video games; that's my little secret I do in the house."

Hirsh, an intervention teacher who works with Ryan, said in an e-mail, "Ryan is a determined and optimistic second-grader. No matter what circumstance is thrown his way, he always sees the glass half full. Ryan doesn't let any challenge get in his way of enjoying life. He is very witty and always has a joke to tell. Ryan loves hanging out with his friends and family and cheering for the Buckeyes."

To monitor the brain tumor, Ryan gets an MRI every six weeks and since the radiation in 2007, each MRI has revealed some sort of shrinkage, his father said.

"We actually were getting very good results and we thought everything was going well, until he was diagnosed with leukemia," he said, adding that Ryan is currently undergoing chemotherapy to fight the leukemia and will receive radiation for it in coming weeks.

The financial costs of Ryan's battles are great, his father said. The 30 treatments of radiation alone were $250,000.

"The community has been unbelievably supportive," Hardy said, adding that a couple of years ago neighbors held a spaghetti-dinner fundraiser to help pay for Ryan's 2007 radiation treatment.

"When his teachers came and said they were doing a T-shirt fundraiser -- we've been very blessed ... I have good insurance but when the co-pay is 10-percent it's very hard," he said.

Hirsh said, "Ryan is part of our Alum Creek family. Just as you would reach out to support a family member in need, we wanted to help Ryan and his family. Since the day we found out about Ryan's latest diagnosis, parents, staff and community members have been asking what they can do."

Ryan's tumor is entangled in nerves, Hardy said, causing deafness in his right ear and weakness on the right side of his body, which makes writing difficult. Treatments to fight the tumor also have caused a loss of hearing in his left ear.

Saksa, Ryan's second-grade teacher, said in an e-mail, "We decided to do the shirts to show our support for Ryan and to let him know that although he is not physically at Alum Creek, we are all standing beside him and supporting him."

The fundraiser also includes a silent auction of theme baskets; the bidding for which will occur during parent-teacher conferences, Thursday, Feb. 26 to Tuesday, March 3, at Alum Creek Elementary, 2515 Parklawn Drive, Lewis Center. For more information, call Saksa or Hirsh at (740) 657-4600.

bbutcher@thisweeknews.com