Fighting Cancer with Friends

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SALEM, Ore. — When Ryan Bendel and his mother think back on that trip to Florida so many years ago, all they remember are the good times.

Never mind that it was paid for by the Make-a-Wish Foundation and that Ryan was suffering from his second bout with brain tumors. At the time, they didn’t know if Ryan would survive beyond his teen years.

“From the first time he was diagnosed, it just brought us all together and made us stronger,” said Lisa Bendel, Ryan’s mom.

Ryan and his parents say their faith in God got them through those days, and for the next 15 years and more Ryan enjoyed a normal life.

Sam Thrower, Ryan’s best friend, said the 26-year-old has an infectious personality–a love for life that shows every day.

“If you can track down somebody who doesn’t like Ryan or has something bad to say, I would honestly be surprised,” Thrower said.

But life doesn’t always return your love. And for Ryan, the days of sickness came back last year. A new tumor appeared on the base of his brain, cutting off his cerebral fluids.

There was surgery in June, then radiation in July. He did fine until one night in November when he and a friend were leaving karaoke night at the speak easy and Ryan suddenly had trouble climbing the stairs.

“He was dipping to one side. It was very slight at first,” said Ryan’s friend Tommy Thompson.

From there, things got worse.

“Can’t walk very well, can’t write, can’t speak,” said Ryan Bendel.

Now he’s back in treatment–chemo and radiation. We asked him if he was bitter about it all, the fact that he lives with his parents again in Salem, how he can’t drive, how his dream of being a history teacher is on hold.

His short answer? No.

“I’m not scared of dying. I’ve been dealing with it my whole life, since I was three,” Ryan said.

And though this is his fourth go around against the disease, this time something is different. This time he has an army on his side.

“I made a promise to Ryan that, you know, I would be there for him if this cancer were to come back…And I’m just trying to keep that promise to him,” Thrower said.

Sam and Tommy and the rest of Ryan’s friends are hitting the streets, putting out the word about Ryan’s fundraiser this Monday because even though Ryan has insurance, it never pays enough. Just last week he got a bill for more than $7,000. Sometimes Ryan skips doctor’s appointments to save money.

“He’s been a fighter his whole life. And then money’s going to get in the way of him fighting?” Thrower said.

For Ryan and his parents, it all goes to show what they already knew–that what matters in life isn’t money or possessions or even your health.

“It really doesn’t matter to me as long as I have my faith, my family and friends,” Ryan Bendel said.

It’s the people you love who love you back.

If you want to help out, you can pick up a flier at the Springfield Walmart Saturday or Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Just take that flier to Papa’s Pizza on Monday and 50 percent of your order will go to Ryan’s medical fund. His friends have also set up a Facebook page. Click here for more information.

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