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Fundraiser Saturday for Hellam Twp. teen battling cancer

Ryan Dellinger, a Hellam Township teen fighting a high risk form of leukemia, spends time with a therapy dog.

Ryan Dellinger was 16 years old when he began exhibiting symptoms that mirrored Lyme disease or mono — low-grade fever, achy joints, nosebleeds and really bad headaches.

After two trips to the hospital, blood work revealed Ryan had leukemia.

The Hellam Township teen was diagnosed June 11 with B cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a type of childhood cancer affecting the blood and bone marrow that increases in risk for children over the age of 10.

According to a GoFundMe set up by his half-brother Matt Kreider, Ryan's age, gender and "a chromosomal abnormality that causes resistance to treatment" makes him an extremely high-risk case.

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Chemotherapy did not work the first time, and when a second phase of treatment failed, it was "a big surprise and shock to all of us," said Ryan's father, Steve Dellinger.

His next step will be to try a new cancer therapy, and unlike chemo — which has harsh chemicals and side effects — it will use his own cells to fight the cancer.

CAR T-cell therapy — which involves removing his T cells (a type of white blood cell), modifying them to detect the cancer in his body and reinserting them — will send him to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia for six weeks in early December.

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The children's hospital pioneered the therapy, approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2017 for B cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, as part of a collaboration with the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

The first person to receive the treatment celebrated being six years cancer-free in May.  The hospital has since treated more than 250 children with the therapy.

Ryan is optimistic about the procedure, saying, "I feel pretty good."

Now 17, he's working on his Eagle Scout project and has applied to Penn State York for an information technology program.  

Though he misses seeing his friends at school (he can't attend because of the recent chemo), he enjoys spending time with them when he can. He also enjoys hobbies such as photography and video games.

"He’a a good kid," Dellinger said.

Costs: Dellinger said insurance covers the $470,000 to $500,000 procedure, and they've also received assistance with medical expenses from Hershey Children's Cancer Hospital through Penn State's Four Diamonds fund for childhood cancer.

But costs will still build up.

He is entering the slow season for his construction business, and his wife, Molly, has already exhausted her paid vacation and sick days, so the weeks spent with no income will have an impact, he said.

The family will receive a stipend of $60 a day during their stay in Philly, but for three people in a big city, it won't go far, he added.

Fundraiser: To help offset costs, Ryan's youth group — York Youth Revolution — stepped up in a big way.

All freewill donations from their upcoming fundraiser, a community hayride and fall festival from 5-8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10, at 5635 Furnace Road, in Hellam Township, will go to Ryan.

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The event — featuring activities for all ages, such as pumpkin painting and crafts, and a food truck serving hot dogs, fries and other refreshments — was initially going to fund next year's group mission trip, in which Ryan usually participates.

He was diagnosed a few weeks before this summer's trip and was unable to go, which "was very disheartening for him," said youth group leader Joe Bachman.

But helping Ryan became a priority and something they knew they had to do, Bachman said. The group also has been a close support network for Ryan, who said, "it's good to talk with them."

Dellinger was "a little reluctant" to accept the donation since the youth group had also recently used another mission fundraiser to support flood victims in the Hellam Township area — and he hopes he'll be able to pay it forward.

But despite everything Ryan was going through, he was out there helping with the flood victim fundraiser, too, Bachman said.

"He is always one to give to others," he said.

York Youth Revolution will have the opportunity to raise money for the mission trip at their Feb. 9 sweetheart dinner dance at the Hellam Fire Co. hall, but Bachman is not too worried.

"God put things in front of us that we didn't plan," he said. "We know that we will get there."