Still Standing: DanceBlue family overcomes disease to finally enjoy childhood


Kindergartner Mason ( I NEED HIS LAST NAME) from Saint Peter and Paul School celebrates his first day back at kindergarten at Bounce U on Friday, Feb. 19, 2010. Mason had been receiving treatment for cancer at Kentucky Children’s Hospital.

By Garrett Wymer

At 6 years old, many kids are enjoying what life has to offer — playing on the playground, being happy-go-lucky and carefree, recovering from small bumps and bruises. Mason Pontrich is no different from the average 6-year-old.

Although most children his age are afraid of the dentist or the dark, Mason’s fear is getting his blood drawn. From his chest. And he comes face to face with this fear on a regular basis.

Mason is a cancer survivor.

On Feb. 19, DanceBlue held a party for Mason and one of his classmates, who has also had cancer, at BounceU, a children’s party location with inflatables.

Mason, whose family lives in Lexington, stands out from most people at the party. He’s the one running at top speed, scuttling up to the top of one inflatable and quickly tumbling down it. He doesn’t stop.

Other children frantically try to keep up with him. It can’t be done. Mason is feeling great and enjoys having an outlet.

This Mason is a far cry from the fragile one who was cooped up at home while undergoing treatment.

“It was only the second or third time we’ve been out together since it happened,” said Ron Pontrich, Mason’s father. “He went to school today for the first time in 10 months. There’s a smile on his face.”

The last time Mason was at BounceU was for his fifth birthday in January 2009 — just a few months before his diagnosis. It was a reminder for the Pontrich family of their difficult journey over the last 10 months.

Frozen with fear

The week before Easter 2009, Mason’s mother, Kimberly Pontrich, noticed several bruises on his body. Since they seemed to be in the “regular” spots for children his age, she got rid of any troubling thoughts.

Until the spider bite.

On April 10, 2009, Kimberly took her son to the doctor because of an abnormally large spider bite that “almost took up his whole back,” she said. While they were there, she had the doctor look at Mason’s many bruises.

The doctor decided to run a blood count, the results of which came back in two minutes.

And then the world stood still.

“Everything stopped — literally stopped,” Kimberly said. Mason was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL.

“I hadn’t been around anyone with leukemia. I didn’t understand it,” Ron said. “I just knew it was bad.”

A family’s journey

The diagnosis on Friday, April 10 set off a whirlwind weekend for the Pontrich family. On Saturday, Mason went into surgery — a port insertion and spinal tap. On Sunday, his treatment began.

Treatment meant chemotherapy, which meant killing Mason’s white blood cells. Because of Mason’s weak immunity, the Pontrich family was forced to live in near-isolation for 10 months.

“You go back to having a baby again,” Kimberly said. “You have to stay sheltered — you can’t go out because his immunity was so low.”

This was something that was hard on the whole family, but especially on Mason’s two older sisters, Morgan, 9, and Malena, 10.

“At first I didn’t know what was going on,” Malena said. “I was sad. I didn’t know what was going to happen.”

On occasion, the Pontrich family would get to go to the back of a restaurant and eat dinner, Malena said. Those times were a welcome respite from the isolation and monotony at home.

The overall focus on the child with cancer could leave some siblings feeling isolated in their own sense.

Malena and Morgan have encountered things most kids have not, said Kayla Talbott, family relations chair for DanceBlue.

“They come home and have to think about washing their clothes and getting cleaned up (so their brother does not get sick),” Talbott said. “It’s a lot to swallow.”

Kimberly was a stay-at-home mom, but with Ron at work, it was difficult to get everything done. Picking up and dropping off Malena and Morgan and cooking dinner became tougher tasks.

“It was a lot to juggle,” Ron said. “We really depended on others. A lot of great people helped us out.”

Things were complicated further when Ron had a heart attack on Aug. 10, Malena’s birthday. He spent the next three days in the hospital.

They got through Mason’s battle with ALL only with “a lot of prayer and support,” Ron said.

Back on his feet

Mason is in remission, and has been since day 29 of his treatment. The body once stricken with cancer and chemotherapy drugs is now strong again. Mason runs, jumps and plays with his friends and classmates — people he was not able to see while he was ill.

Mason still undergoes treatment, which includes getting blood drawn once a month from the port in his chest.

“It’s scary,” Mason said, fidgeting his toes inside his Transformers socks. He lifts up his shirt, exposing the jumble of dark specks on his chest where they have drawn blood.

He steals glances at his mom and Superman watch. The topic is not comfortable for the 6-year-old who, in the last year, has experienced a lifetime of troubles.

While at BounceU on Feb. 19, Mason can smile. He can laugh, he can enjoy life away from the hospital hallways. At times like these, flanked by his friends and family — Morgan and Malena by his side — Mason can simply be a kid.

“All those times seeing him in the hospital, not being able to do anything, really makes you appreciate what he’s out there doing now,” Ron said.

People from DanceBlue would visit Mason throughout his stays in the hospital, Kimberly said.

“DanceBlue is one of the most unselfish organizations,” she said. “They’d play with him, bring him stuff.

“DanceBlue makes things bearable for (kids with cancer) when things aren’t bearable.”

In the fall, Mason’s DanceBlue adopt-a-family organization contacted the UK soccer team for help in creating a special experience for Mason and his sisters. They were invited to go out on the field before the game and present the game ball.

Now Mason is looking forward to attending DanceBlue.

For the kid who faces his fears and overcomes them, stage fright is not an issue. He will be singing and dancing at DanceBlue, performing the song “Bet On It” from Disney’s “High School Musical 2.”

Singing and dancing, having fun — just living the normal life of a 6-year-old.