Slowly, 7-year-old Xander Munson's life is getting back to normal.
After more than a year of undergoing treatment for a cancerous brain tumor, the Waikapu boy is in remission. His hair has grown back, and he is able to ride his bike and play video games, like any other youngster.
Now, the 2nd-grader from Pomaikai Elementary School is looking forward to seeing his old friends from Kapi'olani Medical Center for Women & Children on Oahu who treat him like family, said his mother, Jena Dando.
Munson and his family will be cheering on participants and reunite with Kapi'olani officials at Saturday's 2013 Hyundai Hope on Wheels 5K Run/Walk at Whalers Village in Kaanapali.
Beginning at 7 a.m., the event aims to raise awareness and funds for pediatric cancer research and programs serving children battling cancer in Hawaii, such as those at Kapi'olani.
Hope on Wheels will award a $75,000 Hyundai Scholar Grant to Kapio'lani along with the net proceeds raised at the event. The fundraiser also will benefit a partnership between Maui Memorial Medical Center, Kapi'olani and the Hawaii Cord Blood Bank to support cancer research in Hawaii.
Online registration continues today at www.hyundairun4hope.org. It costs $35 for adults. Children ages 2 to 12 can participate for a discounted rate of $10, which includes participation in the Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Keiki Sprint prior to the run. Runners receive a race T-shirt and other items.
Participants can register on-site the day of the race.
The benefit run coincides with Hyundai's Tournament of Champions professional golf tournament, which begins today at the Kapalua Plantation Course.
"Our thanks go out to the Hyundai dealers, the company, and to Hyundai Hope On Wheels for their continued support of our institution," said Martha Smith, chief operating officer at Kapio'lani. "Community support like theirs is essential in helping us provide exceptional and comprehensive care to families across the state of Hawaii and the Pacific."
Dando said she is pleased to help Kapi'olani and others in the childhood cancer fight, noting that the hospital played "such as big role in what we went through."
In April 2011, Xander complained about double vision and the next day his right eye pulled inward, making him look cockeyed. Three days later, he was flown to Kapi'olani and days after he had brain surgery to remove a cancerous tumor.
"Kapi'olani is very on it," Dando said. "They always make sure you are informed of what is going on. It's just really positive, (they) make sure we understand everything."
She called the whole staff from the doctors to those who monitor the children's playroom as "real loving and real receptive."
Xander has undergone radiation and chemotherapy.
While at Kapi'olani, Dando was able to sleep in Xander's hospital room when he was having his treatments, alleviating a need for her to find a place to stay.
Although those treatments are now behind them, Dando said Xander periodically has to go back to Kapi'olani for follow-up visits, but nurses and staff members remember him.
"He feels so good too when they remember him," Dando said.
Xander said he was looking forward to Saturday so he can see everyone, especially Tucker, the golden retriever animal-assisted therapy dog that he got to know while at the hospital.
Even though Xander's cancer changed his and his family's life, Dando said her son has taken it well.
"He's very easy-going, very mellow," she said.
Dando said that when Xander would go to Oahu for treatment at Kapi'olani and Queen's Medical Center, he would joke that it would be a vacation from his 8-year-old brother Xavier.
Dando said that while Xander's energy is OK and he is no longer losing weight, he still loses his balance at times and doctors need to monitor his hearing, because those are two side effects of the treatments.
He still needs to get his appetite back. He weighs only 49 pounds, and his goal weight is 57 pounds.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.