What started off as a normal day at summer camp for six-year-old Ryan Bendoff, ended up turning into a day he would never forget.
In summer of 2011, Ryan was accidentally kicked in the stomach while playing in the pool. Immediately he left the pool and started to throw up. His mom Tammy, began to worry that Ryan was experiencing an appendicitis and she rushed him to their local hospital. Ryan had multiple scans that indicated everything with his appendix was fine. However scans revealed something far more serious – a tumor the size of grapefruit on his kidney had ruptured.
Ryan was diagnosed with stage four Wilms tumor, the most common type of pediatric kidney cancer. Tammy said, “We went from a normal life, to everything changing in an instant.”
After diagnosis, Ryan underwent surgery to remove the tumor and one of his kidneys as well as three weeks of radiation and six months of chemotherapy at a different hospital.
Three years after completing treatment, Ryan transitioned to Lurie Children’s Survivors Taking Action and Responsibility Program (STAR), a comprehensive program that provides care to childhood cancer survivors. The program also educates and empowers patients as they grow up to understand their future healthcare needs.
Karina Danner-Koptik, APN, CNS, Clinical Nurse Specialist, Hematology/Oncology/Stem Cell Transplantation, started to care for Ryan in the STAR program in 2017.“We will continue to monitor Ryan’s growth and development, as well as, monitor his heart functions,” said Danner-Koptik. “Survivorship for childhood cancer is life-long, so even after Ryan turns 25 the STAR program will help transition him to an adult program.”
As quoted in the Northbrook News, Danner-Koptik, said, “It’s such a beautiful way of incorporating this part of his life into his faith-based life. It’s a great honor, I think, for him to have chosen to want to have his Bar Mitzvah here at the hospital.”
For his 13th birthday, Ryan celebrated his childhood cancer survivorship and his Bar Mitzvah, a traditional Jewish coming of age ceremony, in the Anne Searle Bent Interfaith Chapel at Lurie Children’s. “We both kind of looked at each other and we said let’s have the ceremony at Lurie Children’s,” said Tammy. “As a family, we visited the chapel a number of times while at the hospital, and found so much beauty in it.” Ryan also took the day to honor his friend Mia, who battled cancer at Lurie Children’s and passed away in October 2017. Ryan had Mia’s initials sewn in his Tallis, a fringed shawl traditionally worn by Jewish men at prayer.
“In Judaism, a Bar Mitzvah is such a special ceremony, but even more so for Ryan,” Tammy said. “We didn’t know what was going to be (referring to Ryan’s chances of survival). But Ryan himself, never thought about not surviving.”
Ryan said, “Cancer was never something that took over my thoughts. It was just something I knew I would overcome.”
Photo credit: Ashley Summers Photography