Since a young age, Drew Bonner has been known for “dropping knowledge.” It’s the term his mom uses to describe the adult-like opinions and comments this wise-beyond-his-years 6-year-old has about “anything and everything.”
“Those who know Drew well are always interested in what he’s going to say next,” Candice explains. “He gets quiet, scrunches up his eyes, and you know he’s going to say something semi-profound. It’s the way he’s always been.”
Family and friends fondly call Drew “the professor.” His personality is described as philosophical, wise and balanced. It’s these traits that Candice says were especially helpful to their family when Drew began battling a serious medical condition at just four years old. “Drew’s the one that kept everyone balanced,” she says.
In September 2015, Drew was diagnosed with Wilms tumor, a rare cancer that can develop in one or both kidneys. This type of tumor can develop if some of the cells that form the kidneys malfunction as a fetus develops.
“It was very out of the blue. A staff member at the pre-kindergarten program Drew had recently started noticed blood in his urine and alerted us,” Candice says. “Even though he wasn’t experiencing any pain, we were concerned and brought him to a local hospital later that day.”
An emergency ultrasound revealed that Drew had a tumor. Further scans showed it was overtaking his right kidney and growing in such a way that chemotherapy to shrink it was not a viable option.
Drew arrived at CHoR around 3 a.m. the following night by medical transport. Less than 48 hours later, he was undergoing surgery to remove the kidney and several lymph nodes that has also tested positive for cancerous cells. “It was surreal,” Candice recalls. “It still is.”
Drew bounced back relatively quickly from the procedure (two days after surgery his mom found him trying to do yoga poses in his hospital bed), but he still had a long road ahead. For the next 11 months, Drew came to our ASK Pediatric Hematology and Oncology Clinic for chemotherapy aimed at removing all cancerous cells and radiation treatments directed at the area where his right kidney had been. Side effects he experienced along the way led to a few hospital stays.
It was a difficult year for Drew and his family, but made less so by Drew’s attitude and the attitude that surrounded him. “Drew always looked forward to visiting CHoR – not for how he felt after his treatments, of course, but being there was OK for him,” Candice explains. “They work really hard to not create an atmosphere of sickness. It’s very much a healing environment. It’s a ‘this is what’s going on, but it’s not something that defines you’ approach.”
One of the things that does define Drew is excitement about learning and he’s quick to share his favorite topics (Right now, it’s “new animal facts.”). Drew was only able to attend two weeks of pre-kindergarten before he was sidelined by surgery and treatments, but once the first few months of chemotherapy and radiation were completed, he began a special preschool program offered as a partnership between ASK Childhood Cancer Foundation and First Baptist Preschool in Richmond.
The First STEP program began in 2006 after input from families made clear the need for additional supportive services for children whose preschool experience had been interrupted or postponed due to medical treatment. First STEP (Socialization Through Enriched Play) is one of just two programs in the country that offers classes for children undergoing cancer treatment or other childhood diseases and their siblings. It is geared for children ages two to six and offers a full preschool curriculum in a sanitized classroom environment.
Drew started this program in January 2016 and was able to finished the school year there, coming every Monday through Thursday until noon. Years later, he still very much enjoys flipping through his school-year memory book which includes pictures of the friends he made there, many of whom were also undergoing active treatment.
Candice considers his months at the school a “great experience” for the professor. “Attending the preschool program was part of Drew’s positive outcome,” she says. “It made it possible for him to see the year he spent fighting cancer as ‘something I went through, not something that held me back.’ Now he says it’s just part of the story of his life.”
Drew was able to begin kindergarten along with other kids his age. The port in his stomach where he’d received chemotherapy treatments was removed a week before his first day at Holton Elementary in Richmond’s Northside.
Drew comes to CHoR for follow-up appointments with our hematology and oncology team. He has scans every three months to check his kidneys and every six months to check lymph nodes. He is also followed by our nephrology program. They do regular ultrasounds to monitor the growth of his remaining kidney and blood checks to be sure it’s functioning well.
“Everyone we have worked with at CHoR had been so supportive.” Candice says. “It’s always all hands on-deck and all staff on the same page. Throughout our experience, we never needed to ask for a specific or preferred staff member. Whoever was there that day to help you, you knew you were receiving good care.”
An avid reader, Drew spends lots of time reading with friends on the carpet of his classroom. At home, he likes to read chapter books, especially mysteries and humor. He loves creative, imaginative play and can often be found putting together elaborate “motion picture” scenes with his toys, dialogue he writes and a tablet for recording. For active fun, Drew loves dancing and spends lots of time playing Just Dance video games with his big brother Bryce, 8. (Michael Jackson songs are their all-time favorite.)
In keeping with Drew’s personality, during this season focused on giving thanks it’s not surprising that reflecting on his medical journey has led to a balanced and wise philosophy for life. “The whole experience – for Drew included – makes it clear that you never know what life is going to bring you,” Candice says. “We have so much we are thankful for in every day, and we are more cognizant of everything we have to be thankful for every day. We are always in a position of thankfulness now – we keep it at the forefront of how we live each day.”
The “Meet our Calendar Kids” blog series highlights children featured in CHoR’s Tid*Bits calendar. Join our mailing list to receive future issues of the Tid*Bits calendar and newsletters. We hope you’ve enjoyed getting to know Drew our featured patient for November 2017.
More about Drew – fun facts:
School grade and name: 1st grade at Linwood Holton Elementary School
Favorite subject: Homeroom with Ms. Dunson
Favorite food: Pizza
Favorite activities: Reading, dancing, making movies with toys and learning animal facts
CHOR Favorites: The toy bin in the ASK Pediatric Hematology and Oncology Clinic; playing games in his hospital room with Child Life
Most memorable CHoR moment: ASK dance party with a DJ – Drew and his brother, Bryce, did the Just Dance routine to the song “Everybody Dance Now” at this event. “It was a great memory,” Drew’s mom Candice says. “To this day, Drew and his brother still say: ‘Remember when we were famous dancing at that party!?’”