Last August, Penelope Ruderman donned her handmade green visor, put her mother’s running medal around her neck and ran a pretend solo “marathon,” circling the dining room table at the family’s Brooklyn apartment.
“Penelope always saw herself as a runner,” said her mother, Lori Schneider, who recently moved with her family to Sea Cliff. “We had a cheering station and water station."
Almost one year before, in September 2010, her daughter was diagnosed with leukemia at age 3. After she received a bone marrow transplant in January 2011, she was isolated at home for months and only able to leave the Brooklyn apartment wearing a mask over her mouth.
Penelope, now 5, has grown up watching her mother run marathons, so during the isolation period she chose to run laps in the apartment with her parents and brother Felix as spectators.
“Her biggest memory is watching me run while sitting on her grandpa’s shoulders,” Schneider said. “In a lot of the runs, I’ll grab her when I approach the finish line and we’ll run together.”
In June of last year, the family formed a nonprofit called Penelope’s Odyssey, named after their daughter’s journey battling leukemia, and has partnered with DKMS Americas, the world’s largest bone marrow donor center.
“I was brave in transplant when I got shots,” said Penelope, lifting up her shirt to show the scars.
On July 13, the nonprofit held a bone marrow donor drive during Sea Cliff Beach’s Friday night summer music series, where people could sign up to be on the donor registry. The nonprofit will make another appearance at the same event on Aug. 24 from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.
The family would like to eventually create a website to offer families a place to get information on mental health support and assistance with paperwork.
“We eventually want to be the one-stop place for people to call in for help, but we’re in the beginning stages,” Schneider said.
Her husband, Matthew Ruderman, plans to travel with his family to local events across Long Island to educate people and convince them to sign up for the donor registry.
“We’re excited to get this off the ground and help other families who could be going through the same situation as us,” he said. “Unfortunately, we’re experts at this, but we can help.”
Alissa Kahn, M.D., a pediatric, hematology and oncology research fellow at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan, has been treating Penelope in the hospital for last two years. Kahn was impressed by how the family juggled the birth of Felix in January 2011 and the days following Penelope’s bone marrow transplant. She said five years from now, if Penelope stays in remission, she will be considered “cured.”
“Penelope just has so much life to her and even during the transplant she had so much personality,” Kahn said. “It was a pleasure walking into her room every day. The whole family never lost their sense of humor.”
To reach the nonprofit, check out its Facebook page.
Above: Penelope Ruderman, 5, of Sea Cliff, was diagnosed with leukemia at age 3 in September 2010. Recently, her parents formed a nonprofit to help other families going through the same situation. (July 12, 2012)