Bobby Menges was 5 years old the first time doctors diagnosed him with neuroblastoma, a rare and potentially lethal cancer. He was 9 the second time.
In between the cancer bouts, he broke a leg so badly that his femur stopped growing. Treatment involved re-breaking the leg and would not have been out of place in a medieval dungeon: "They stuck metal pins in the bones, and every day I'd turn the little knobs on the contraption to pull the bones apart a little bit," he recalled.
Menges, now 17, is cancer-free, sound of limb and deeply changed by what he went through.See alsoWrite a message to your LI graduatePhotosAnd here are the 2015 valedictoriansSee alsoSearch: Where LI's smartest are going to college
"It changed my mentality," said Menges, one of Newsday's 12 Extraordinary Seniors. "I don't like to let days go by when I'm unproductive. I feel like I always have to be doing something because I understand that life is short and you have to use everything up."
Menges, of Garden City, joined the wrestling team in high school, started a rock band with friends, composed an experimental suite of songs based on the Iliad and raised money for medical research. Last year he raised $95,300 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Man and Woman of the Year Campaign, drawing on a sizable list of email contacts and an innovative twist: Every "ask," or donation request, encouraged the recipient to forward it to 10 more people.
"This year people are saying, 'I want to beat the kid,' " said Jennifer Taggart, the campaign's senior manager. "He set the bar so high."
Cancer is still with Menges, but in a good way. "It'll never leave my life and, really, I don't want it to . . ." he said. "I have an obligation to help the people that helped me when I was in treatment."
HIGHER ED: Menges will attend Duke University and hopes to major in music and math.
"Duke is a worldwide university with people from all around the world, different countries, parts of the nation, and it's going to be a great experience to learn from them."
WHAT MAKES YOU EXTRAORDINARY:
"I had a lot of rough things go on in my childhood . . . instead of wallowing in pity, I took those experiences and turned them into a positive."