Owen Bonn believes everyone gets blood drawn during doctor visits and that other kids wear eye patches, too.
He’s also too young to know that he’s different — most children are never diagnosed with retinoblastoma. If a procedure is not developed for cases like his, he will never be considered cancer-free.
“He’s not leading a normal life,” his mother Marsha Bonn said. “But he’s the most positive kid you’ll ever meet.”
Marsha Bonn calls her 3-year-old bundle of energy and joy a “social butterfly,” and the description sticks.
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“He’s one of the brightest, smiley, happy kids you’ll meet — a really strong little boy,” Delta Chi Thon Chair McCarley Rouse said. “He doesn’t understand what he’s going through, but he’s always happy.”
Rouse and a few Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority members met the Bonn family at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center prior to the 2016 Penn State IFC/Panhellenic Dance Marathon. Owen was undergoing treatment, but made time to give his new friends a tour of the hospital.
“I see him as a younger brother,” Rouse said. “He’s a blessing to all of us. He makes the most of everything.”
The Bonns knew something wasn’t quite right on Oct. 3, 2015, when they celebrated Owen’s second birthday at Crayola Experience in Easton.
“There was so much stimulus there,” Marsha Bonn said. “I just didn’t know why he wasn’t getting it.”
He was upset the next night when they sat down for dinner.
Curious, they asked him what was wrong.
“Owen was crying, because he thought he didn’t have any food,” Marsha Bonn said. “He sort of palmed it, and I called our pediatrician and gave her more examples of what was going on. She told us to go to Hershey.”
There was good and bad news with his diagnosis.
He had a 90 percent likelihood of survival, but the tumors behind his eyes were inoperable and were nearly blinding him. The doctors laid out their priorities: save Owen’s life, save his eyes and hope that his vision can be saved, too — in that order.
“They told us they can’t remove the tumors but can control the growth,” Marsha Bonn said. “There’s nothing you can do but hope there’s a procedure in 10 years. If I’d had him 10 years prior, he would probably have lost both eyes by now.”
Owen began to wear glasses to help with his sight and patches his right eye to develop strength in his left eye. His parents wish they could throw a cancer-free party for him, but the tumors will likely always be present.
“We’ll always run the risk of there being a relapse,” Marsha Bonn said. “But I don’t want him to live in fear.”
They’ve found strength within themselves and from others.
“This has taught me that people are good, people are really, really good,” she said. “We receive cards from strangers. We have people who don’t know us fundraise for us. And Thon has been a blessing.”
But, mostly, it’s revealed Owen’s resilience.
“He’s had a remarkable strength to deal with what has happened,” Josh Bonn, Owen’s father, said in a Thon video interview. “Seeing what he has gone through and seeing how he has stood up to everything he’s gone through is very inspiring, and he just shows an incredible courage.”
“We can be bitter or we can be better,” Marsha Bonn said. “We choose to be better.”