It’s not uncommon for a child’s babysitter to notice when that child seems “off.” But when Benton’s babysitter, Kim, noticed the 3-year-old's pallor and bruises, it raised a very particular alarm for her. It reminded her of the children with leukemia she had known when her own child, Emily, was being treated at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for a brain tumor in 2003.
Kim warned Benton's mom, Marcy, to watch for other symptoms. “I picked him up one day, and Kim and I were talking about how pale he was and his bruises, and she said, ‘Watch for joint pain,'" said Marcy. "I didn’t really think a lot of it, because I thought he was anemic. But that night, actually, he said, ‘Mommy, my wrist hurts. I want to go to bed.’” The following night, it was Benton’s ankle. So Marcy took him to the doctor.
It wasn’t long before Marcy texted Kim a simple, crushing phrase from the local hospital: “He has it.” The diagnosis was acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), and Benton was headed for St. Jude.
“I just lost it,” said Kim.
Kim remembers well what it was like to arrive at St. Jude. Back in 2003, when she came with Emily, she was terrified. “When I pulled in the gate, I bawled,” she said. Already in significant debt from Emily’s previous medical care, she worried how she and her husband would pay for this. “I didn’t even know where I was going to be staying, and I was nervous about that, and the outlook of Emily’s treatment. It was hard at first. And then … it got easier.”
Emily’s family learned that they would never receive a bill from St. Jude for treatment, travel, housing or food — because all a family should worry about is helping their child live.
Emily received thirty rounds of radiation therapy at St. Jude to stabilize her inoperable brain tumor, an optic pathway glioma. She and her mom settled into St. Jude housing, where Kim met other families at St. Jude for treatment of other life-threatening diseases. Diseases like leukemia, which she would suspect in Benton years later.
Recently, these two families from the same hometown sat down together at the hospital that brought them both hope. Emily, today a sweet and friendly young lady of 24, now actively participates in the St. Jude LIFE Study. Benton is still in active treatment, but his cancer went into remission in August of 2015. “August 23rd, about 2:45 in the afternoon,” said Marcy, “I’ll never forget it.”