At just 9 years old, Benjamin Burke has already earned the title of philanthropist. This holiday season, the young leukemia patient is making a difference with a gift of 1,000 gift cards for patients at Lurie Children’s.
Just days after he turned seven in December 2015, Benjamin of Glen Ellyn, Illinois, was diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a type of leukemia that starts from white blood cells in the bone marrow. For the past two years, he has been receiving treatment at Lurie Children’s on an inpatient and outpatient basis, an experience that has encouraged him to give back.
This week, Benjamin and his mother, Jennie, dropped off the gift cards totaling over $6,200 for restaurants like Dunkin Donuts and stores like Target so that oncology patients can treat themselves this holiday season. During his time at the hospital, Benjamin gained a keen appreciation for the little things in life—a video game victory, time with his Lego set or an afternoon with his favorite child life specialist. He hopes the gift cards, which were purchased using donations from his family and friends, serve as a slice of joy for other kids with cancer.
In September 2016, Benjamin and his younger brothers, Charlie and Teddy, held a lemonade stand in their driveway, raising a whopping $26,000 for the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation, an organization that supports kids like Benjamin undergoing cancer treatment at Lurie Children’s. This fall, the family held their second annual lemonade stand and included blood drive and bone marrow match that raised $45,000 for the foundation. In May 2017, the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation announced a $3.5 million commitment that was especially meaningful to the Burke family as it will provide grants on a case-by-case basis for Lurie Children’s families facing financial hardship due to unexpected needs resulting from a child’s treatment for cancer, as well as provide ongoing support for two oncology Child Life specialists.
As an inpatient, Benjamin bonded with his Child Life specialist, Lura Carstensen. Jennie says Lura helped the family through one of the most difficult times they have experienced.
“Leukemia is a long road, Benjamin’s treatment protocol is 3.5 years,” Jennie said. For the first 11 months after his diagnosis, Benjamin received intensive chemotherapy with four planned inpatient stays. For the next year and a half, he will continue to receive daily chemotherapy and return to Lurie Children’s once a month for clinic appointments.
“He has a very empathetic heart for other kids,” Jennie said. “What he’s been exposed to just by way of getting in the elevator here and being in the hospital as much as we are is one of the gifts of cancer. Kids look different but he doesn’t notice, they are just another kid here doing their job of getting healthy.”
During his time at Lurie Children’s, Benjamin coined a catch phrase: “I’m just trying to be as brave as I can be.” His family updates his Caring Bridge page named “Brave for Benjamin” and has made sweatshirts with the same slogan.
“When your kid has cancer, you want the circus to come to town for him. And that is what happens here,” Jennie said. “Lurie Children’s does such an incredible job of sprinkling joy in the most difficult times. That is what you cling to when you’re in the fight of your life or the darkest of your times.”