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Vander Griend survives cancer

Abby Kaup

April 24, 2019

Over the course of a weekend, six year old Ben Vander Griend went from competing in a wrestling tournament to not being able to walk. Alarmed, his parents Harlyn and Terri Vander Griend took him to the hospital to discover the cause of his discomfort. The doctors informed them that Ben’s blood levels were a little off, but they would keep an eye on it.

            When Ben’s ankle worsened, his family wanted answers. They were told he had an infection on the growth plate of his ankle; surgery was performed to remove the infection. After surgery, Ben was still running fevers and was in and out of the hospital for six long weeks. The doctors still had no answers.

            After considering rheumatoide arthritis, macrophage activation syndrome, and an infection found in peanut butter, the doctors finally generated a diagnosis. At the age of six, Ben Vander Griend was diagnosed with stage three non-hodgkin’s lymphoma. Symptoms of the disease included night sweats, fevers and rashy hands.

            The first six weeks of treatment were intense. Right away, Ben was subjected to spinal taps, where the doctors put medicine directly into his spine. He also had chemotherapy treatments once a week for six weeks and then was rotated to a three-week cycle. He also had to take steroids.

            Although treatments were hard, Ben did not feel like his life was that bad. When at the hospital, he was surrounded by other kids his age, and even younger, who had cancer too. Also, while he got treatments, he was able to play video games and Legos. At the hospital, Ben felt like he fit in, and he was able to play with the other kids.

            Going through cancer was extremely hard for Ben, and it was emotionally draining for the rest of his family. However, the family received support from their family, their faith, and the community. People helped cleaned the Vander Griend’s house and mowed the lawn. Terri said she was also “very thankful for the oncologist he [Ben] had.”

            After a year, Ben was declared cancer-free. However, his relationship with cancer was not over. Every year, he has to go to the oncologist for blood tests, . Also, because of the potential damage the radiation treatments could have on his heart, he is supposed to avoid energy drinks and other things that could increase his blood pressure. His chance of getting other types of cancer is slightly higher than the average person, so he must avoid common risk factors like excessive sun, alcohol, and smoking.

            Ben’s five-years out of treatment was a big milestone for him. Within five years, many people relapse. However, Ben did not. He recently reached 10 years out of treatment, which was an even bigger milestone.

            Ben has not let the challenges he faced as a child hold him back from living his life. He lives every day to the fullest, and he has been extremely successful thus far in life. He is in the top 10% of his class, and he has committed to play football at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa.

            “Childhood cancer is the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through,” Ben said. “But it gave me a whole new perspective about life. I take advantage of every opportunity I am given, and I find happiness in the small things in life.”


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