TODAY | November 22, 2011
>>> for our special series "thanks and giving" we focus on the work of st. jude children's research shot. i had the pleasure of meeting 9-year-old ryan christian and her family who lived by the motto strong, healthy and loved.
>> watch out, i might paint over your finger.
>> reporter: 8-year-old ryan christian loves art, fashion, and figure skating. since getting her first pair of skates at age 2, ryan was a natural on the ice.
>> she's just an exceptional kid.
>> ed avend russ, into everything.
>> reporter: skating was in her genes, her father, jeff christian , was a professional hockey player, and is used to tough fights.
>> she's a lot tougher than i am, that's for sure. a lot stronger, a lot braver.
>> reporter: like her dad, ryan fights, too, her opponent? cancer . it's a very rare cancer . what was it that led to that moment when you realized your daughter was sick?
>> she had a few headaches, i went to get her out of her room and she was unresponsive because she had a major seizure.
>> she suffered major brain damage and after surgery to remove a tumor her parents received bad news.
>> the doctor came and said this is cancer , and it might be too late already.
>> because of how rare her cancer was, the christian family was referred to st. jude children's research hospital, a world leader in this kind of cancer .
>> ryan has a cancer called aderoncourttal carcinoma. a cancer of the adrenal gland.
>> the protocol originated at st. jude and they started an international registry to study the disease. after surgery and treatment, ryan was cancer free for eight months, but then a routine scan would bring more devastating news.
>> there were some nodules that showed up in her lungs, so they went in and did a biopsy of her lungs just to see if it was cancerous and it was.
>> reporter: after surgery to remove those nodules, more were discovered. so today, her doctors are in a race against time to save her life.
>> i'd love to get rid of them but if i can't get rid of them the next thing is to keep them there and under control.
>> reporter: i spent some quality time with ryan on her first trip to new york city . so i hear that rock center, the ice rink has always been something that you wanted to do. is that true?
>> tell me about your dream about coming here.
>> well, last year when i was in the hospital, i kept asking like when could i skate again.
>> she had a special surprise from someone who also fought a personal battle with cancer and won. you know how you said you love this very handsome skater named scott hamilton ? well, look right there. wow, who is that!
>> i want to see some of your moves.
>> there you go!
>> good job! see that, she naturally holds her landing.
>> next visiting american girl was like a dream come true for this fashionista.
>> you look gorgeous.
>> thank you.
>> and who could resist a traditional horse and buggy ride through central park . tell me about having cancer . were you scared at all?
>> well, people at st. jude and children's take care of me but yeah, like i was afraid.
>> how did you find comfort? what was it that made you feel better?
>> like the child life ladies there, just playing with them, like just really helped me.
>> what have you learned watching your little girl go through this?
>> just appreciate every single day you've got and make it a fun day and we say that at night, we had a good day today, we're going to have another good one tomorrow.
>> take a bow. ta da! and ryan christian is here with me now along with marlo thomas , national outsireach director for children's hospital.
>> thank you.
>> marlo, this is such a rare cancer . why is st. jude hospital interested in researching and treating this disease.
>> restudy the disease to find the treatments cure it. dr. ribeiro is a scientist from brazil and came to st. jude to work on the disease because no one else was working on it. we do everything we can to save every child's life so ryan is as important to us, even if not anybody else has it. we want her life to be saved.
>> so great, and ryan , what are you most thankful for this thanksgiving?
>> well, for dr. mcgregor and all the nurses and doctors there at st. jude .
>> you have something to look forward to as well this year, right?
>> right, we have a brand new baby girl on the way.
>> a little baby girl . mom and dad are standing off to the side. you're going to be a big sister so that's something to be extra thankful for.
>> you keep getting better, sweetie pie , okay?
>> i feel so happy that i got to know you.
>> thank you.
>> it's really great having you here.
>> thank you.
>> come back to rock center any time. we'll go back out on the ice.
>> marlo will talk to us tomorrow about another story of thanks and giving.