Mike Dendas Credit: Rachel Gianatasio

When Mike Dendas’ teenage cousin was battling a rare and aggressive form of cancer, he said, The Children’s Inn at NIH was a “saving grace.”

Dendas has been giving back to the organization, a residential facility for children with serious illnesses and their families, for more than a decade. A boxing match he will be in on Thursday is his biggest commitment to The Inn yet.

National nonprofit Haymakers for Hope organizes matches for first-time boxers to raise money for the cancer organization of their choosing.

“It’s definitely a new way to go about things, which helps with fundraising,” Dendas said. “Would you give me 25 bucks to run a 5K? Well, then give me $125 to actually box.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, Dendas had raised nearly $20,000 for The Inn. His original fundraising goal was $5,000.

Most of his fundraising comes from individual donors, but Dendas received $5,000, his largest donation to date, from Arlington-based DFS Construction.

For four months, Dendas, 37, has trained at Urban Boxing in Bethesda three days a week at 5 a.m. “I played football in college,” he said. “But this is just an entirely new thing.”

“It took months to get to the point where I could be in the ring for two minutes,” said Dendas, who works for the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Mike Dendas (left) and his family at The Inn’s 2019 WINNter Affair

Dendas and his extended family were living in Connecticut when his cousin, Lizzie Schwanfelder, was first diagnosed with clear cell carcinoma. “We had Yale right in our backyard and she could not get any of the treatments or they couldn’t figure it out,” Dendas said.

The Schwanfelders were referred to The Children’s Inn at NIH in Bethesda, which had just opened its doors a few years earlier. “They had way more expertise with the type of disease my cousin was dealing with,” Dendas said.

Dendas remembers hearing about The Inn during his cousin’s year of treatment. “At The Inn, my parents and her family were able to spend time with [Lizzie] in a comfortable setting.”

“It wasn’t like she was just sitting in a hospital bed or waiting for the next treatment or waiting for the next trial,” Dendas said. “She was making friends and she was kind of living her life there while she went through all this.”

Schwanfelder lost her nearly decade-long battle to cancer in 1993. “It was a very traumatic thing for our family,” Dendas said. “She was a very special kid and it sucked.”

The 6’3″, 210-pound Dendas will fight at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at The Anthem in Washington, D.C.

Leigh McDonald can be reached at leigh.mcdonald@bethesdamagazine.com.