Benjamin stands proud and full of life with a gleaming smile. If not for the sparse patches of hair growing back, you might not know this loving, playful three-year-old is battling cancer—acute lymphoblastic leukemia, to be exact.
It all started on the return trip from a magical family vacation to Disneyland. Benjamin started coughing and came down with a fever. . .similar to the symptoms his cousin, who was also on the trip, was experiencing. A few days later, however, Benjamin was not feeling any better.
After a trip to the pediatrician and an antibiotic he began feeling better. Life seemed to carry on. Then came the bruises—strange bruises—on Benjamin's face, ears and fingers. Mom, Kimberly, began to fear the worst.
On February 3, 2010, little Benjamin was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer of the blood. "Nothing can prepare you for the words, and I cry every time I think back to that day 'our world' was changed forever," says Kimberly.
Fortunately, Benjamin's pediatrician had been a pediatric oncologist at Duke Children's Hospital & Health Center, so there was no doubt where Benjamin should go for treatment.
"The team of nurses and doctors at Duke Children's were not only in position and ready to go, but were also compassionate, knowledgeable and kind," recalls Kimberly. "They moved at a rapid pace to replenish our son's blood, which was 97% saturated with cancer."
Within six hours of arriving at the clinic, Benjamin received blood and platelet transfusions, a chest x-ray, blood tests, and his care team devised a thorough treatment plan and scheduled surgery for his port insertion.
"In addition to effectively treating our son, the team also helped us better understand the disease and inform us of all options available, including the clinical studies that were available to participate in because we were at an academic medical center," says Kimberly.
Benjamin spent six weeks in the hospital enduring a course of rigorous treatment to rid his small body of cancer. His parents watched as the treatment took its toll on their son.
This was the most intense part of a three-year plan to make Benjamin cancer-free.
"The nurses helped us adjust to watching our child endure horrible things, such as anesthesia, injections in his leg muscles and taking oral meds every day and night," Kimberly says. "Whenever it was almost too much for us to bear, someone from the Duke Children's team was always there."
At the end of the six-week hospital stay, Benjamin jumped out of the car, hopped onto his dad's motorcycle, sat in his jeep and wanted to go straight to the playground to swing, slide and smile. Benjamin was back and ready to play with his brother, Brody.
"We began weekly visits to the clinic, and on our short drive we often talked of how superheros have to endure pain to fight off evil cancer," says Kimberly. "As we walk through the tunnel, through the colorful lobby, past the fish tank, through the elevator doors and onto the 4th floor, Benjamin is greeted by his biggest fans! The nurses and doctors give big smiles, warm greetings, 'good luck fingers' and high fives! The entire staff are knowledgeable, confident and friendly, with a true team environment."
Today, Benjamin can be seen running around his yard with his two-year-old brother or climbing way up high on the playground yelling to the world, "I am not a little boy, but a big boy, and I am fighting cancer!" After all that he has endured, he is just a typical three-year-old boy.