David Kanarek, 1997

David Kanarek, 1997

What people always noticed first about David ...

were his smiling blue eyes. He brightened every room he entered. He always had a wonderful sense of humor—he had a hardy laugh when he was just a few months old— and as a young boy, always had a joke to tell. He was a remarkably mature young man, who deliberated carefully before jumping into action, performed well in school, and always stood up for the underdog. He was a loving son, brother, and friend. Life seemed to be going his way.

All of that changed one day in 1995 when, at the age of 10, David was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Without warning, his world, and ours, turned upside down. All of us, David’s sister Sarah included, had one and only one goal-- to win the fight for David’s life.

Treatment helped David achieve remission quickly, but two grueling years of intensive chemotherapy followed. There were some very bad days, but all of us did whatever we could to make things better for David. While we felt that our lives had been irrevocably changed, it also seemed that David remained unchanged, always believing in a brighter tomorrow. His positive attitude amazed everyone, including the nurses and physicians who cared for him. His humor buoyed us, even in the darkest moments of his illness. Somehow he managed to keep smiling and laughing. His spirit was never broken by the harsh treatments he had to undergo. 

When the treatment was completed, it seemed for a time that we’d won the battle. We traveled, played together and enjoyed a newfound savor in the simple joys of family life. It seemed that things had returned to normal. David had achieved his Bar Mitzvah and an academic achievement award when he graduated from eighth grade. But that summer, the cancer returned, more virulent than before. David, weakened by two years of chemotherapy, could not endure another two-year round of treatment. His only chance for survival was a stem cell transplant and his 10 year old sister, Sarah, would be the donor.

The recovery from the transplant brought daily, unexpected, life threatening challenges, but David’s indomitable spirit kept fighting. After 28 days in strict isolation, he was discharged from the hospital with his sister's immune system getting stronger and stronger within his body. Yet again, we began the long, slow climb back to “normal.” David’s good humor and hopeful attitude kept us going from day to day.

For the next six months, his condition appeared to improve. Then he developed an autoimmune response requiring treatment that left him vulnerable to infection. His symptoms worsened and he was re-hospitalized. Despite this terrible setback, David never lost his positive outlook. As he was about to be sedated and put on a ventilator, the last words he spoke to us was a joke. Just when it seemed that he was about to beat the disease, a massive infection snatched him away.

It has been more than 17 years since David’s passing and we still deeply mourn the loss. Not a day goes by that we don't think about his and his incredible spirit. When we speak about him, we focus on the happy memories and that brings smiles to our faces. We believe the best way to honor David is to let his joyful spirit guide us in doing the work that he would have wanted done in his name, to help other children and families struggling with life-threatening illnesses such as pediatric cancer. We like to think that this is work he might have done had he lived to fulfill his great promise and potential. That is why we started the Kanarek Family Foundation—to honor David and to constantly remember the wonderful young man he was.