Fighting Cancer for Dad

By Jillian Petrus, Reporter

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By Jay Knoll

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa – Two Washington High School students are making a difference in the lives of children battling a deadly disease.

“I see more and more purple bracelets everyday,” said Amy Faulkner, a staff member at Washington.

Natalie Runneals and Jenna Banaszek are selling purple wristbands in the hallways, between classes, and at different fundraising events throughout Cedar Rapids.

The girls designed the wristbands online showcasing a simple message in black lettering “WeCANCERvive”.

“We’re going to go down to the children’s hospital in Iowa City after we’ve raised all the money and donate it there,” Banaszek said. “We know how hard it is on our dads just imagine how hard it is on the kids.”

The two girls have known each other nearly all their life, even playing on the same youth basketball team coached by Natalie’s father, Mike Runneals.

What’s really brought these two girls closer together in the last year is their fathers’ ongoing battles with cancer.

Mike Runneals was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer seventeen years ago that has now resulted in a brain tumor. Just three weeks ago, he finished his last treatment at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. Now Runneals, and his daughter Natalie, are waiting to see if the treatment had any effect on the tumor.

For Natalie, her father’s trips to the hospital have become a part of everyday life.

“He had his first surgery I can remember when I was in 3rd grade,” she said. “I guess that’s when it kind of made sense not everyone has brain surgery.”

Both Mike and Natalie agree, the years of treatments and doctor visits have brought them closer together as father and daughter.

“You appreciate each other each day you don’t worry about the petty things,” said dad, Mike.

While Natalie and Mike have dealt with cancer for years, it’s been a different, and more recent fight for Jenna and her dad, Jim Banaszek.

Doctors diagnosed Jim in February of 2010 with colon cancer. After radiation therapies and surgery, Jim went into remission. In April of this year, doctors discovered the cancer had returned and spread to his liver and lungs.

“He actually didn’t tell me at first because it was my birthday week,” Jenna said. “He didn’t want to ruin my seventeenth birthday.”

For dad Jim, the hardest part is the doubt and uncertainty that comes with this disease.

“Before the diagnosis, I figured I’ll live to be 80 years old. I’ll see them grow up graduate get married have children and that’s probably the hardest part,” Banaszek said.

The two girls say they’ve found comfort in relating to one another as their dads continue their fight. They’re also inspiring others with their mission to raise 1,200 dollars for the UIHC Children’s Hospital by selling the WeCANCERvive wristbands.

For Natalie, the small purple bracelet is a way to help others, but also a chance to show dad Mike, he’s her hero.

“He has dealt with cancer his entire life,” she said. “I don’t think people realize how precious life is until you go through it like he does and he always has a smile on his face.”

Both Jenna and Natalie’s fathers say their fundraising effort shows an incredible amount of maturity and makes them proud of their daughters.

“You can look at it and remind yourself there’s hope and optimism for something you’ve just learned to deal with live with everyday,” said Mike Runneals.

Banaszek says it’s an inspiration and a reminder of the support he has throughout his personal battle with cancer.

“You can’t help but just say if they believe in me I got to believe I can get through this,” said Jim.

Jim is still undergoing treatment at St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids. Jenna says she’s optimistic and knows her dad can get through this with the support of their family.

“He’s absolutely wonderful, he’s the greatest guy you’d ever meet,” she said. “I just want everything to go ok. I want him here for a long time.”

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