With his family gathered around the table Thanksgiving Day, 7-year-old Dean "Deany" Bandavanis decided to make an announcement. He didn't want any more medicine. The only thing he wanted was to be a normal kid like his big brother, and that wasn't going to happen.
Better to start thinking about heaven because he'd get another chance there. He wouldn't be sick with this stupid cancer.
"I think he needed to hear that we were OK with it -- he needed that validation," said his mom, Ashley Bandavanis. "Deany was wise."
And so Ashley and her husband, Dean, followed their son's lead, just as they always promised they would.
By the time of his death at home Dec. 3, Deany had stretched a 9-month life expectancy to nearly two years, plowing through treatments and clinical trials both inside and outside the United States. The Pickerington boy inspired thousands of people with his strength, courage and wit, which, his parents admit, was often more ornery than not.
Only Deany could prompt a well-wisher to send his family a Christmas ornament decorated with a hand extending a middle finger. That was the first-grader's message for the childhood brain cancer known as DIPG (diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma), a monster of a disease for which there is no cure.
"What did you do to this town, Deany?" Ashley would think, laughing to herself. "Adults were letting their kids fly the bird."
After Deany was diagnosed, his parents were desperate to give him a chance. They took him to Monterrey, Mexico, for treatments that weren't covered by insurance but that Ashley believes afforded Deany months of good-quality life.
"I think that's what bought him the time he had," she said. "He was still walking at the beginning of November."
The family borrowed money and sold belongings, and supporters raised thousands for treatment and travel. Ashley fought for the care they wanted until the end, taking on the hospice insurance program that refused to cover an expensive medication that eased Deany's symptoms without the harsh side effects of steroids.
Ashley revoked hospice care and put Deany back in palliative status, which paid for the drug that kept him most comfortable.
"If Deany taught me anything, it was not to take no for an answer," she said. "Nobody was going to tell us how it was going to go."
Staff members and families at Sycamore Creek Elementary School, which Deany had attended, scrambled to put together a community holiday celebration and parade two weeks ago while Deany could still enjoy it. The parade included an older firetruck all decorated in lights.
"We literally threw it together in 24 hours," Principal Nikki Arnold said, and the response was overwhelming. "We thought it was just going to be a little Sycamore Creek thing. It was so much more."
Soon, Deany's family plans to start a foundation in his name.
The focus will be on families going through hard times, whether because of cancer or a house burning down.
Deany's brother, 9-year-old Keller, asked his mom if she really believes in heaven. She told him she can't be sure, but she's certain Deany is better now.
"When he took his last breath, he lifted out of my husband's arms and all of a sudden his eyes were straight. The left side of his face wasn't paralyzed anymore. He was Deany," Ashley Bandavanis said. "It's almost like he had that smirk on his face, the one that said, 'I told you.'
"He was perfect."
Visitation for Deany Bandavanis is 4 to 7 p.m. Thursday at Dwayne R. Spence Funeral Home, 550 Hill Road N., Pickerington. In lieu of flowers, donations for DIPG research can be made in his memory at teambuddyforeverfoundation.org.