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Northbrook 1st-graders celebrate good prognosis for classmate with cancer

Hickory Point School  first-graders wear hats Friday  in solidarity with a classmate who had cancer. Some also wore green, the color of kidney cancer awareness.  (Jeff Danna, Tribune reporter)

Hickory Point School first-graders wear hats Friday in solidarity with a classmate who had cancer. Some also wore green, the color of kidney cancer awareness. (Jeff Danna, Tribune reporter)

Cheers of “Ryan! Ryan!” filled the playground of Hickory Point School Friday as dozens of first graders celebrated their classmate Ryan Bendoff’s recent good bill of health.

In February, Ryan and his family received word form doctors that after months of often difficult treatments for kidney cancer, his disease was in remission. To acknowledge the good news, the entire school community took part in “Hats Off to Ryan Day.” (Photos: Hats Off to Ryan Day)

In exchange for making a small donation to Comer Children’s Hospital, students and teachers were allowed to wear hats in solidarity with Ryan, who often wore one to school after chemotherapy caused his hair to fall out.

“It’s amazing the way the community, my friends and my family have come together,” said Ryan’s mother, Tammy Bendoff. “It’s something we never could have imagined.”

While attending day camp last summer, Ryan was accidentally kicked while swimming and experienced stomach pains and vomiting, his parents said. At first,they thought his appendix had burst, but doctors said a tumor on his kidney the size of an orange had ruptured. He was air- lifted to the University of Chicago Hospital and diagnosed with Stage 3 kidney cancer.

“Our life kind of changed in an instant,” Tammy Bendoff said.

Over the course of six months, Ryan underwent numerous treatments. But he only missed about 18 days of school.

Ryan Bendoff

The school community offered an outpouring of support, said Principal Cory Hehn. The nurses let him eat lunch in their office if he was feeling ill. Teachers made him a quilt, while his classmates sent cards when he couldn’t be in school.

“It’s amazing how those kids have supported him and understood what he’s gone through,” Ryan’s mother said.

Tammy Bendoff said she often would hear other children talking about her son like a rock star, saying how brave and cool he was.

One of those kids was Ryan’s first grade classmate Branko Bogdanov, who expressed how happy he was his friend was feeling better.

“He’s my best friend,” Branko said. “He plays Batman with me.”

All the students in Ryan’s class, and the teacher  Laura Foster, donned green tie-dyed shirts with Ryan’s photo printed on the front. Foster had the shirts made for the class, Tammy Bendoff said. Other students carried handmade signs and cheered as they marched down the halls of the school and out to the playground. On their way, they dropped change into tin cans labeled “Hats Off to Ryan”. Virtually everyone wore green, the color of kidney cancer awareness.

Ryan’s parents, Tammy and Mike Bendoff, and his older sister, Zoe, enthusiastically thanked the students and staff for their support. But the man of the hour, Ryan, was quieter. He, too, thanked everyone, but was more talkative during a video he taped with principal Hehn.

In the video, which was shown to students as they geared up for Hats Off to Ryan Day, Ryan talked about taking “icky medicine,” having the tumor and a kidney removed, and wearing “cool hats” to school.

He also explained that the money raised would be used to buy new toys and crafts for the playroom at Comer Children’s Hospital, where he spent much time.

“The sick kids pick up germs easily,” and a fresh supply of toys is constantly needed, Ryan said.

Friday’s donations from students and a previous luncheon for teachers netted $1,555 for the hospital, school officials said.

While the money was generous, the real reason for Ryan’s family to celebrate was that their little boy was able to act like a kid again. His parents said his appetite has returned, and he’s full of energy. They even smiled when they said Ryan was talking back to them and wrestling with his sister.

“He’s doing everything a kid his age would normally do,” Mike Bendoff said.

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