Germantown illustrator Bryan Dyer doesn’t have a superpower, but he’s always loved stories about people who do. “Superheroes in particular were my thing growing up,” Dyer says. “For the longest time, I was going to be a comic book artist.”
Dyer started “You Are The Hero,” a nonprofit organization that creates superhero portraits for kids with chronic illnesses. Parents email Dyer to request a portrait. He lets the kids pick their hero’s name, colors and superpowers. He takes care of the rest, free of charge. “Your illness is not your identity,” Dyer explains. “This is how everybody sees you, and this is how you should see yourself.”
Jayden Hebberth was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a form of eye cancer, when he was 15 months old. He endured seven months of treatment before being declared cancer-free, but his right eye had to be removed. His mother Kristen Hebberth found “You Are The Hero” and sent in a picture of her son. Dyer turned him into “Super Jay.”
Keegan Denecke spent more than two years in treatment for leukemia before being declared cancer free in 2015. “It’s a lot of bumps and there’s a lot of high points, but there’s also a lot of low points, and it’s hard,” Denecke says. “You got to battle it out.” A battle that was no match for her alter-ego, “Star Girl.”
Liam Kirsch was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma at 13 months old. It’s a cancer that affects muscle tissue. His parents Joe and Stephanie Kirsch knew how much their son loved dinosaurs, so choosing a superhero name was easy, “Dino-Liam: The Cancer Crusher.”
The Kirschs loved the drawing, but Liam Kirsch’s cancer battle was only beginning. He would enter remission only to see the cancer return two more times. “That’s just kind of what he was used to. His whole life was at the hospital,” Joe Kirsch says. “It almost just became our normal routine after a while,” Stephanie Kirsch adds.
Liam Kirsch was eventually moved into hospice care. On August 13, 2017, he passed away. He was four years old. His parents made sure his memory lived on by putting the Dino-Liam artwork on his tombstone.
“I’m incredibly humbled by their choice to do that,” Dyer says. “I visited it myself. It took me about a year before I could finally muster up the kind of emotional fortitude to go and see it. I went by myself, and it was a very emotional experience for me.”
It’s a testament to the impact of “You Are The Hero.” In almost five years, Dyer has helped dozens of kids discover their superpowers. “I just think it gives them kind of an outlet to see themselves in a different form, and see the strength that they do have,” Stephanie Kirsch says.
“It just lifts their spirits up,” Kristen Hebberth says. “Who doesn’t want to be a superhero?” “It is an absolute joy to work on this stuff,” Dyer says. “I can honestly say to myself ‘I can’t imagine doing anything else with my life.’”