Devin Pulaski was 4 when she began chemotherapy.

The day was Sept. 15, 2017. As she waited for the doctors to administer her first treatment at Penn State Children’s Hospital in Hershey, her father wondered about all the unknowns that lie ahead.

How would she take to the treatment of a stage-five tumor in her kidney? Would the looming surgery remove all the cancer? When would she go back to preschool in Palmyra?

Would life return to normal? Ever?

So many unanswered questions.

And then something happened Nick Pulaski will never forget.

In walked a young boy. Ryder Getchis had been there before. In the same waiting room. In the same situation. Facing the same unknowns.

Ryder was 11. The Manheim Township fifth-grader had endured multiple surgeries, four rounds of chemotherapy and 25 consecutive weekdays of radiation punctuated by bouts of vomiting. He’d joked with the nurses at the time, asking whether he was still going to get his lunch on the days he was sick. When his hair fell out, he wore goofy hats that made everyone laugh.

On this day, though, Ryder wasn’t there for himself. He was there to see a young girl he’d never met. He carried a care package with him. He’d come with a blanket, fuzzy socks, snacks, games – comforts for, and distractions from, the unknown. He came to talk to Devin.

“Little Devin, the first thing she does is give him a big hug,” remembers Nick. “For him to give that to her and to sit there and talk to her was awesome.”

Giving back

Ryder beat cancer, beat the germinoma tumor in his brain. An avid swimmer, he returned to the pool and began competing again with the Skyline swim club in Manheim Township shortly after he finished treatment in June 2017.

But he wanted to do more.

“All of my nurses were saying it’s important to give back,” Ryder said. “I got up one morning and I’m like, ‘I want to start something to give back.’”

He and his mother, Stacey, brainstormed a few ideas. And then it hit them. Ryder would gather goodies and deliver them to children battling cancer at Penn State Children’s Hospital and Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. The same kinds of goodies that helped him through the tough times.

“Hats, blankets, fuzzy socks, Kindle, snacks, games, a neck pillow, Amazon gift cards, Chapstick, lollipops, coloring books,” Ryder said.

The “Rallying for Ryder” Facebook page that once allowed friends and family to keep up with the boy’s progress became a tool to help others fighting cancer.

Ryder and Stacey say the word, and the community delivers. Before his checkup every four months at Penn State Children’s Hospital, supporters buy boxes of goodies for his cause. “I’ll come home ... and there will be a pile of boxes on the front porch,” he said.

'It's been all smiles'

Ryder delivers the “smile packages” himself. He stuffs the goodies into pillow cases, on the front of which are yellow smiley faces giving two thumbs up. “No one fights alone!” is written on them.

He’s made more than 90 care packages over the past two years. Stacey is working to establish Ryder’s Care Packages as a nonprofit. They’ve got a website, smilepackages.com.

Sometimes he delivers them to social workers at the hospitals, who get them to parents. Sometimes Ryder is able to deliver them to the children himself.

“It’s been amazing,” Ryder said. “Smile packages -- that’s the name. It’s been all smiles.”

That is how he met Devin two years ago.

Devin, who has been in remission for one year and four months.

Small comforts go a long way, something the Getchis family knows, something the Pulaski family knows.

“To be welcomed by a family you’ve never met, and to feel that connection on day one of chemo treatment,” her father Nick says, “ … the Getchis family is amazing.”