“It was a rollercoaster,” says his older daughter Kamryn, who was just a freshman in high school when her dad was diagnosed, “but he still continued to support everything we did.” As Mike’s “good days” of strength and endurance began to diminish, his team of doctors eventually told him that there was nothing more they could do.
Fortunately, the family’s determination and “frantic research” led them to a lifeline — the OSUCCC – James, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center’s Comprehensive Cancer Center. As Kamryn and her younger sister, Kaitlyn, explain, the difference in care was immediate. Mike was welcomed the moment he walked through the doors. Even little touches like blankets and a private room set to the right temperature — he was big on temperature — were appreciated.
“They treated him like family and cared how he was feeling and how he was doing,” Kaitlyn says. “He was not a number. He was not just a patient. He was a person.”
Most importantly, the therapy that targeted the specific genetic mutations of Mike’s cancer gave the girls three more valuable years with their dad. Mike lived until January 2021.
The winning bid
Although they say there is no amount of money they can give to repay for that time, the Bondoni sisters have done something remarkable.
“These two young ladies have made a substantial donation to our cancer program,” says Matthew Kalady, MD, director of the Department of Surgery’s Division of Colon and Rectal Surgery. “It's humbling to see what they’ve accomplished and how they’ve transformed their own talents into something even bigger.”
As Kamryn explains, it all started with a small goal. Like their grandfather, aunt, uncles and mom before them, both Bondoni sisters joined 4-H at an early age, raising dairy cattle to show and dairy beef feeders for auction at the annual county fair. At the first fair without their dad in 2021, Kamryn secretly planned to donate half of her auction proceeds to help end cancer. She didn’t tell anyone, but prepared a letter to be read when she entered the auction ring.
As the announcer read her letter about her dad’s cancer and her desire to recognize those touched by the disease and save others from the same heartache, tears streamed down her face — and the faces of her surprised mom and sister.
Kamryn was overwhelmed as bids were placed. She had dared to imagine a winning bid of $5,000. To her shock, the winning bid came in at $17,000, pledged by a man whose own brother had been treated at the OSUCCC – James. Inspired by her sister, Kaitlyn entered the same auction ring later that day, and the community rallied around the Bondoni family again with another winning bid far above expectations. A year later, the scenario repeated. This time, Kamryn — who had aged out of 4-H — read her younger sister’s letter explaining her donation goal. Thinking she’d be fortunate to end up with $8 per pound, Kaitlyn had to choke back sobs as the winning bid came in at $50 per pound from a man who’d known her dad.
Making a difference
You can’t reach those kinds of numbers without multiple bidders, and the sisters credit their tight community and the lessons learned about giving back from their family and neighbors. “We’re two country girls from the middle of nowhere Ohio,” Kamryn says. “The way we were raised, we didn’t know what we did was unusual.”
Yet when the girls went to the OSUCCC – James to meet with Dr. Kalady, they began to see the potential of their gift. “We’re hoping to make a difference. Our community helped us get here — and now we’re giving back to a different kind of community,” Kamryn says.
While they plan to make additional donations in the future, Kamryn and Kaitlyn recently presented Dr. Kalady with a check for $32,000. Some of the donation will be used to study specific genetic mutations, including the one that affected their dad. All of the donation will be used to change the lives of future patients, who — just like Mike — want more years with their loved ones.