A mother's love

David Vanderkin hugs his mother, Heather, outside their home on Waupun's west side. On Monday the teen is finishing a three-and-a-half year course of treatment for leukemia, and all are invited to a community-wide celebration of that success on Saturday, Sept. 16. Funds raised will grant a wish to a suffering child through the Make A Wish Foundation.

WAUPUN — David Vanderkin is celebrating these days and he wants to share that joy with his supportive hometown.

Vanderkin, a senior at Waupun High School, recently completed three and a half years of treatment for leukemia, and is hosting a party to thank the community for its support. Proceeds will fund a wish for another child with cancer through the Make A Wish Foundation.

“I was 14 when I was diagnosed,” said David. “The first year I had to go to Madison every week for treatment. The last two and a half years it was every month, but I was taking oral chemo meds every day.”

His mother Heather said, “Monday is his last oral chemo. Last Thursday was his last port chemo. It’s quite a rigorous schedule. The first year was every week, although sometimes it was four times a week – through his port or through his spine.”

Although it sounds painful, David is quick to point out that he was sedated for the spinal treatments but he did feel nauseous afterwards.

Amazingly David was diagnosed as a high-risk patient because of his age. The younger the better as far as positive results are concerned. According to David, the average leukemia patient is about 2 to 5 years old.

He missed a lot of school, but his teachers and fellow students helped to make up whatever he could not experience in person or to include him in classes when he couldn’t be there.

“His teachers were so good,” Heather said. “His Spanish teacher started Skyping him into class, so he could participate. They’d set up an iPad and pass it around so he could be part of group activities. They were all so terrific.”

Heather explained his future expectations, which are good.

“With leukemia the goal is to put them in remission by day 29, and remission for leukemia means you have less than 1 percent of lymphoblasts left,” she said. “He actually went into remission on day eight, which is remarkable. But they still go through the whole protocol to ensure that the cancer doesn’t come back. Cells divide rapidly and it doesn’t take long for them to spread and grow.”

Treatment took place at UW Children’s Hospital and Agnesian Health Care in Waupun.

The outlook is fantastic, but David will get once-a-month checkups to make sure he is cancer-free.

David is eager to raise funds to grant another child’s wish because he and his family were granted a wish to visit Hawaii as part of his battle with cancer and his recovery. Wish granters were John and Linda Smedema of Beaver Dam. Linda works in the office at Rock River Intermediate School in Waupun.

What can a person do in Hawaii?

“You cliff jump. You surf. You go deep sea fishing,” David said. “You enjoy terrific food. You meet amazing people … I’m just trying to give that kind of experience to another kid fighting cancer.”

That positive attitude was abundant during all of his trials, and was something he strove to accomplish.

“That’s all you can do when you’re in a situation like this,” David said.

“He’s quite a guy,” said Heather, with obvious pride in her son’s character.

He plans to pursue a career in nursing, having experienced much of that line of work at the receiving end of a needle.

The “End of Treatment Celebration” will be held Sept. 16, from 4 to 11 p.m. David hopes to raise $6,000, which is the average total to fully fund a child’s Make A Wish dream. (A total of $2,000 in cash has been raised already).

According to Heather the event has been at least two years in the making.

“Other families have held a celebration when their children finished treatment, but we have so many people to thanks and weren’t sure how to do it,” said Heather. “There’s been a large support network for us, both emotionally and monetarily, from the entire community. This went from a little party to a community-wide event. Everyone has been so helpful and giving, and this is just a small way of saying how much we value them and their help.”

It is also a celebration of what David, and the rest of the family, have achieved.

“He has handled it all with such grace,” said Heather. “He’s always been very kind, compassionate and humble. His father, Don, and younger brother, Adam, have been strong through the whole process, and we could not have survived it all without their love and support.”

“I’m thankful to all those people who helped me and my family out,” said David. “Its comforting to know that they were so willing to help, and I’m unbelievably grateful for that. It’s a great feeling to have that kind of support.”