SOUTH BEND —In Sunday's bright sun, a large cap shaded 4-year-old Brandon Mirich's head, which is balding and sensitive from chemotherapy. The leukemia is in remission. So now he deals with the medications for three years.
But this was an easy day in Howard Park.
And the really good news was that the little guy tagged along just fine, holding the leash to a greyhound that’s bigger than he is.
The peaceful pooch, Ralph, gently picked his way along other dogs of different sizes and tails, unperturbed by the orange and purple ribbons that his owner - Brandon’s grandma - had painted in food coloring all over his short fur.
“He’s embracing the spirit,” said grandma Barb Rossi.
They were walking laps in the park for the first-ever Bark for Life, a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. It drew well over 50 pooches and their owners and raised $2,400 before they em-barked, not including last-minute registration and the silent auction, said Hanah Tepe, community representative for the society’s northwest Indiana office.
Scott and Kelly Kryder had to come with their kids and their latest golden
retriever, Jonesy. The Granger family has lost two golden retrievers to cancer, along with Scott’s step-father.
Jonesy won the “waggiest tail” contest. The trick to that, Scott said, is to “tell him he’s a good boy.”
Brandon’s journey with leukemia started with a visit last Thanksgiving to the Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis. For the month before, he was lethargic and pale with odd bruises, recalls his mom, Stephanie Andrysiak of South Bend.
His doctor prescribed antibiotics, thinking it was just a cold. Andrysiak knew something wasn’t right and asked for blood tests. And the night that the results came back, they were at Riley with her mom.
A friend brought turkey dinners to mark the holiday in the hospital.
But for Andrysiak, a single mother also raising two other boys, ages 10 and 13, the biggest support has come from her employer, WellPet.
“They have been my strength,” said Andrysiak, an administrative assistant at the Mishawaka pet food factory.
As soon as she came back from the hospital, she said, her boss didn’t ask how much time she’d have to take off. He asked, “What can we do for you to make your life better?”
“I’ve never had anyone say that to me,” she said.
For Sunday’s walk, WellPet gave her a corporate sponsorship of $500, and six executives gave $100 each - including some in the corporate office in Massachusetts, she said. She’d raised a total of at least $1,220. WellPet cat and dog food sat on the silent auction table.
Brandon’s cancer went into remission on Dec. 23.
And on Sunday, the big greyhound that he likes to hug - and that can scare the heck out of him - was quietly by his side.
Staff writer Joseph Dits: