The support has been staggering. The high-school choir performed at the local Italian restaurant to raise funds for Ben’s family. His classmates made bracelets that read: “Hope with Ben.”

Sixteen-year-old Ben Leary smiles too much. That’s what they tell me.

“Ben’s smile could light up a room,” says his aunt. “It absolutely lights up the room.”

Tonight, Ben’s smile is lighting up a little room inside the Ronald McDonald house on Alabama Avenue, in Memphis, Tennessee. He’s been there since June.

Right now, he’s probably lying in bed, watching movies on his laptop. Or maybe he’s texting with friends, or watching YouTube.

This last year has been a doozie. Radiation treatments have taken his energy, and he’s been tired. Inside and out.

But he smiles a lot.

It all started with headaches last September. Ben was getting ready for homecoming. He was going to take his neighbor, Julia, to a dance. It was going to be a good year. A very good year.

But headaches kept getting worse. Then came the bouts of anxiety. Then, exhaustion. The symptoms seemed minor at first, but became crippling.

One morning, he awoke with head pain too intense to bear. His mother took him to the emergency room.

Bad news. The MRI showed a tumor on his frontal lobe. A big one. Glioblastoma—one of the most aggressive brain cancers there is.

Stage four.

They rushed him to the hospital for surgery. It was traumatic—not just for Ben, but for the whole family. And surgery was only the beginning of a long road.

More heartache came afterward. Another brain operation, a few months later. Hospital transfers. Medications. Recovery. Thirty-six radiation treatments. Thirty-six.

This is cancer in the twenty-first century, and it’s not cheap.

You know the drill, the family’s world gets shaken upside down like a piggy bank. And it’s nothing but waiting rooms thereafter. His parents slept in vinyl chairs, his brother and sister lived on vending machine food. And Ben fought.

But the radiation wasn’t working. Soon: three new tumors. Two at the base of the brain, one on his spine. One growth, so big it impedes Ben’s vocal chords—he can hardly swallow. But he can still smile.

“It’s not often,” says Ben’s sister, “that he doesn’t have a smile on his face.”

Maybe Ben smiles because he knows something most people don’t. Something big. Something I wish I knew. Something that makes him unafraid.

Or maybe it’s because only six hours South of Memphis, thirty-four thousand people are thinking of him. Praying for him. Hoping for him.

Ben’s hometown of Houma, Louisiana, is your average offshore oil town. It’s full of shrimpers, crabbers, fishermen, oystermen, oil-rig workers, and shipbuilders. And these hometown folks take care of their own.

The support has been staggering. The high-school choir performed at the local Italian restaurant to raise funds for Ben’s family. His classmates made bracelets that read: “Hope with Ben.”

Then came the area-wide prayer service. Over four hundred students, faculty, neighbors, friends, and family turned out. Then, there was the benefit auction.

And I’m just warming up.

Louisiana State Police Troop C sent Ben to New York City. Ben saw the skyscraper lights, Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, the Empire State Building.

There have been online fundraisers, hospital visits, video messages from classmates, phone calls, texts, emails, voicemails, truckloads of stationary, chicken casseroles, plastic-wrapped gift baskets, colorful bouquets, and enough prayers to split Peruvian granite. And love.

Maybe that’s where his smile comes from. Maybe.

I don’t know. But I do know that news of Ben’s trademarked grin has traveled beyond Houma, outward to Tennessee, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, and Texas.

One Dallas neighborhood, for instance, sold hot chocolate to raise money for a new laptop and headphones so Ben could watch movies and listen to music. It’s the same laptop he’s probably using to read this.

I hope he does read this. In fact, that’s why I’m writing it.

Because yesterday, Ben told his aunt that he couldn’t wait to see his name in black-and-white print.

I hope he knows that this redheaded writer’s attempt to depict him in black-and-white is pathetic. That’s because Ben’s smile could never be described on a page. Not when it’s a smile like his. The smile of a kid who happens to be made of steel inside. A smile that lights up a room.

No. Not a room. The whole world. Forever.

I am praying for you, Ben.

90 comments

  1. Maureen - August 4, 2018 5:39 am

    Praying for you too Ben!

    Reply
    • Mary - August 4, 2018 7:49 pm

      This message, what was written was put into marvelous words. Ben, I’ve been praying for you, someone above tells me you will be healed. You are strong, love God, and have been fighting very hard. Rest in His Hands and know he is with you and healing you as I write. You are an amazing young man, most people would have laid down and quit. Don’t quit, God has got you and he tells us than whenever one or more are gathered together praying, if it is His will he will grant it. In His time. Still praying, love your Dad and family!!

      Reply
    • Jody Lybrand - August 4, 2018 7:59 pm

      Praying for Ben!!

      Reply
    • Leslie Bland - August 4, 2018 8:20 pm

      Like Ben and his smile, and his family, that is one of the most beautiful things I have ever read ❤️
      Leslie

      Reply
  2. Karen Greatrix - August 4, 2018 5:41 am

    Adding my prayers too. Thank you Sean.

    Reply
  3. Van Mitchell - August 4, 2018 5:48 am

    My prayers are up as well…….Ben, keep up the good fight and believe in miracles! God bless you.

    Reply
  4. Patsy Gordon - August 4, 2018 6:05 am

    I’m adding my prayers for courageous Ben! Keep up the good fight. All things are possible if we believe…..

    Reply
  5. Jeanne Butler - August 4, 2018 6:10 am

    I’m praying for you Ben. Keep smiling and fighting. God bless you. And thank you Sean. Love

    Reply
  6. Pat McRee - August 4, 2018 6:27 am

    Hey, Ben, I’m a cancer survivor too….almost 25 years. I’ve been on chemo for the past two years for a new recurrence in my bones. I’m here in Germantown, TN not far from where you are at St. Jude and have a lot of friends with cancer, some who’ve been treated there. One was treated about 25 years ago and she’s still doing well.

    I wrote a book for cancer survivors like you and interviewed a man who was 10 years out from Glioblastoma. I’m figuring that I’ll still be here in 10 years to write another edition of that book. I’m gonna’ need you to hang around so I can include a picture of your big smile and a long interview. Be sure to take lots of notes through the years, okay? I’m sending you love and a hug right across I-240, through that golden dome and into your room at Ronald McDonald House. And I’m sending up prayers for you and your family. Love from Pat Godfrey McRee

    Reply
  7. FRAN PURSER - August 4, 2018 6:31 am

    I’m praying for you too, Ben.

    Reply
  8. Janis Sells - August 4, 2018 7:08 am

    Praying for you Ben. Keep on smiling and fighting! ❤️

    Reply
  9. Susan Jacobs - August 4, 2018 7:22 am

    Made of steel. We love you Ben.

    Reply
  10. GaryD - August 4, 2018 8:04 am

    Keep smiling, Ben. God be with you.

    Reply
  11. Sandi in FL. - August 4, 2018 8:56 am

    Hang in there, Ben. Keep on keeping on. I’m praying for you and your family.

    Reply
  12. Leslie in NC - August 4, 2018 10:36 am

    Thank you, Sean, for sharing Ben’s story and his smile. Prayers and good vibes going up from the mountains of North Carolina!

    Reply
  13. Lucretia - August 4, 2018 10:56 am

    I’m praying for you, Ben Leary. Thank you, Ben, for living your life in such a way that your example lights a true path. Thank you, Sean, for giving Ben and his story to me. Lucretia

    Reply
  14. Amy - August 4, 2018 11:00 am

    Praying for you, Ben.❤️

    Reply
  15. Shirley Northington (Skelton) - August 4, 2018 11:29 am

    And I’m praying too.

    Reply
  16. Cathi - August 4, 2018 11:31 am

    Ben, add me to that praying list too. With love!

    Reply
  17. Penn Wells - August 4, 2018 11:37 am

    Knowing whether someone, especially someone not related to you, cares whether you live or die is one of the strongest medicines in the world. I care, Ben. We all do.

    Reply
  18. Gayle - August 4, 2018 11:46 am

    I pray for Ben and his family. Sending love as well

    Reply
  19. Connie Havard Ryland - August 4, 2018 11:53 am

    And now there’s someone in Alabama praying for Ben and his family. God be with them. Sending love and hugs to them and to you. God bless.

    Reply
  20. Nancy - August 4, 2018 11:56 am

    Praying for Ben and his family. Picturing his smile and it makes my heart happy. Thanks Sean for introducing us to this grave young man.

    Reply
  21. Ralph Bryson - August 4, 2018 11:58 am

    Lots of folks in Alabama praying! Pls keep us updated Sean!

    Reply
  22. Melanie - August 4, 2018 12:11 pm

    I looked in GoFundMe but did not find Ben there. If anyone is aware of anything that the family needs please post here. I would like to help. [Am in Krazy Kalifornia so pretty much unable to help in person].

    Reply
  23. Karen - August 4, 2018 12:11 pm

    Praying for Ben’s smile to continue to light our world. May God hold him in His healing embrace.

    Reply
  24. Debbie - August 4, 2018 12:12 pm

    I will pray for Ben, too. He p’s going to love reading the story you wrote, Sean. It honors him in a beautiful light.

    Reply
  25. Edna B. - August 4, 2018 12:31 pm

    I’m sending prayers for Ben and his family from Massachusetts. Thank you Sean for this beautiful story. You have a blessed day, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  26. Peggy Savage - August 4, 2018 12:35 pm

    Thinking of you, Ben and praying. Thank you for sharing your smile and light with us all.

    Reply
  27. Jo Ann - August 4, 2018 12:38 pm

    Hope with Ben, & prayers

    Reply
  28. Linda Parker - August 4, 2018 12:53 pm

    BEN!, his family and the treating team…now on our radar for prayers….as well as Oak Bowery UMC….prayers we are. love and prayers. thank you for bringing Ben to our hearts.

    Reply
  29. Ginger - August 4, 2018 12:56 pm

    Prayers for Ben and his family, friends, and especially the doctors and nurses trying to rid his body of this horrible cancer. Peace be with you.

    Reply
  30. Anna - August 4, 2018 12:58 pm

    Praying for Ben and his family. Keep that big smile on, Ben, you are loved!

    Reply
  31. Pamela McEachern - August 4, 2018 1:03 pm

    Ben you are a true inspiration, I am in awe of your smile. I hope you feel the smiles that are coming your way with all our prayers for your complete healing. Stay strong and know you are loved.

    Peace and Love from Birmingham Ben Leary 🍀

    Reply
  32. Sue Cronkite - August 4, 2018 1:05 pm

    I’m praying for you too, Ben. May The Lord bless and keep you.

    Reply
  33. Starr - August 4, 2018 1:11 pm

    I love you.
    I love Ben.
    He reminds me to smile.
    I am praying for him too!
    God Bless people like you and amazing strong people like BEN!!!

    Reply
  34. Nedetria Talbot - August 4, 2018 1:15 pm

    Ben, this old woman from Brundidge, Al is sending a prayer up for YOUR COMPLETE HEALING!
    Keep smiling…your story lite up my heart!

    Reply
  35. Jack Darnell - August 4, 2018 1:35 pm

    I like Ben, and I love a smile. He has my prayers of course. BTW I despise ‘bad words’ and cancer is the worst!

    Reply
  36. Marilyn - August 4, 2018 1:37 pm

    Thoughts and prayers for you Ben Leary. Through God al things are possible. Your example is a blessing to all.

    Reply
  37. Carol - August 4, 2018 1:40 pm

    Hi Ben , Prayers for Healing sending your way!!
    You keep smiling cause God has this!!
    Your the best !
    Love and Hugs from Carol in Ga.

    Reply
  38. Mort Harkey - August 4, 2018 1:42 pm

    I’m praying for Ben too. Only God can help. Keep smiling, Ben. May God bless you and heal you!!!

    Reply
  39. Terri Boykin - August 4, 2018 1:55 pm

    Lifting Ben and his family up in prayer for healing and God’s grace and loving kindness.

    Love you much, Sean. Terri

    Reply
  40. Eileen Odegaard - August 4, 2018 1:56 pm

    Am enjoying your daily story, .Sean. I am mother to the banjo player that you contacted recently about using a piece of his music. in London Ontario..Please
    don’t stop!. Eileen from Canada

    Reply
  41. Patricia A Schmaltz - August 4, 2018 2:12 pm

    Sean, I know of another young man, in a similar situation. Mitch started with the headaches right before his senior year prom LAST year! Memphis hospital was great for Mitch as well. Good news is that Mitch is at home now, still getting PT, but is on the mend. What gnaws at me are these ‘coincidences’ … young men in their prime, stopped in their tracks by brain tumors. I really hope and pray the medical community is collecting data so they can ascertain any commonalities… so no family has to go through this in the future. There are too many for this to be an anomaly. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  42. Joy - August 4, 2018 2:13 pm

    Ben, I too am praying for you, and I I know all I forward this too will be praying for you! Keep the smiles coming. God loves you and so do I!

    Reply
    • Joan Price - August 5, 2018 6:11 pm

      Prayers for Ben and his family.

      Reply
  43. Kristie Perez - August 4, 2018 2:31 pm

    A continent away, in Oregon, this grandma is praying for you, Ben. Lighting a candle for you and believing in miracles.

    Reply
  44. Katherine - August 4, 2018 2:41 pm

    What a beautiful inspiration Ben is to each and everyone of us!

    Reply
  45. Barbara Pope - August 4, 2018 2:51 pm

    Prayers for Ben! So thankful for good people who care enough to help.

    Reply
  46. Patti Pignetti - August 4, 2018 2:51 pm

    Keep smiling Ben. Prayers are wonderful ways of saying I love you!!
    Thank you again Sean for a beautiful message!❤️

    Reply
  47. Sandy - August 4, 2018 2:53 pm

    My husband is a Leukemia survivor. God bless you Ben as you fight this cancer with hope and inspiration!!! You are deeply loved by a world of people who have never met you… you inspire all who read your story…

    Reply
  48. Jerre - August 4, 2018 2:58 pm

    Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ can put a smile on the most dire circumstances. I am praying for the Lord to provide miraculous healing and if not for you to continue to inspire others.

    Reply
  49. Mary - August 4, 2018 3:03 pm

    Many days after reading some of your “sermons” I can’t see to post the remarks. What a light he is to the world and I wish God’s infinite mercy in his road of life.

    Reply
  50. Laura selby - August 4, 2018 3:04 pm

    Sean, A friend sent me your messsge about the older couple in restaurant. I love waking up to your inspiring words. Thank you for your gift of writing.
    Laura in Montgomery Alabama.

    Reply
  51. Jane Wood - August 4, 2018 3:13 pm

    Sending prayers from Georgia for Ben and all the children at St. Jude

    Reply
  52. planetcarol - August 4, 2018 3:26 pm

    I’m praying for you Ben…

    Reply
  53. Susan - August 4, 2018 3:34 pm

    Prayers coming from NY for you Ben.

    Reply
  54. Tara - August 4, 2018 3:46 pm

    Ben, you’re amazing. Add me and my family to the long list of folks thinking about you. You’ve got this!

    Reply
  55. Mern Brewer - August 4, 2018 4:19 pm

    As are all of it readers ,Sean

    Reply
  56. Thomas Childress - August 4, 2018 4:29 pm

    Ben, You are a brave young man. I will pray for you for successful treatment and for your loving family.

    Reply
  57. Sandra Vance - August 4, 2018 4:38 pm

    Ben, there is an old song about a smile and it says “Just let a smile be your umbrella on a rainy rainy day” You will never get wet if you keep up that smile! Praying for you near Nashville, TN.

    Reply
  58. Richard C. - August 4, 2018 5:03 pm

    Sean, thanks for writing this for Ben and for me. Ben, thank you for your SMILES. Praying for you.

    Reply
  59. Jan - August 4, 2018 5:20 pm

    Praying for Ben and his family. Prayers will continue daily for Ben and all who love him!

    Reply
  60. Pat - August 4, 2018 5:30 pm

    We need your smile Ben and we need Sean to keep putting his words down so we can all be encouraged. Prayers from Missouri young man!

    Reply
  61. Gay Beck - August 4, 2018 6:32 pm

    Prayers for Ben from East Texas and beyond!! THank you Sean for for writing from your special golden heart. Your writing is amazing and I “get it”!

    Reply
  62. Janet Mary Lee - August 4, 2018 7:01 pm

    Added prayers to you Ben and for all your family, friends and all those you touch-including me! SMILES! 🙂

    Reply
  63. Marcia Stewart Miley - August 4, 2018 7:01 pm

    Praying for Ben🙏🏼🙏🏼🙏🏼 Keep on smiling😀

    Reply
  64. Lance from Dallas - August 4, 2018 7:15 pm

    Our family thanks you Sean for sharing Ben with the world…his smile fills it!

    Reply
  65. cathy notaro - August 4, 2018 7:21 pm

    Prayers from California for you and your family, Ben. 🙏

    Reply
  66. Nancy Powell - August 4, 2018 7:23 pm

    Sean, thank you for sometimes making me cry, and sometimes making me laugh out loud! Today I cried, but it’s okay, because then I said a prayer for a very brave young man! You keep on smiling, Ben!

    Reply
  67. Allen - August 4, 2018 7:37 pm

    Ben, had a niece who fought the same battle. Prayers, benefits, special events and opportunities are all helpful and important. But you are the difference. Keep your faith and never give up. Fight with all you got. You and your team (everyone of them) can beat this.

    Reply
  68. Liz Watkins - August 4, 2018 7:55 pm

    Ben you are such a special guy!! You are loved by so many people! You are in my thoughts and my prayers always. I will offer my Mass for you on Sunday!
    Keep on smiling Ben!
    God Bless you!
    Love Liz Watkins

    Reply
  69. Sharon B - August 4, 2018 7:57 pm

    Beautifully written words, it’s Ben! What a blessing Ben is to everyone! His smile, his strength, his determination is never ending! He’s a teacher to us all showing us that life goes on no matter what gets thrown our way. Prayers each and everyday for this remarkable young man, and his family! Much love!

    Reply
  70. MMM - August 4, 2018 8:14 pm

    Well THAT just totally put my bad day in perspective! Thank you Sean…I saw this come in LATE last nite and decided to wait to read it til just now…my problems will pass…Ben, I too am praying in my own quirky way for you! Fight on and keep smiling!

    Reply
  71. Peggy And - August 4, 2018 9:14 pm

    And I care in GA…..love that smile !!🙏🏻

    Reply
  72. Kim Robichaux - August 4, 2018 9:19 pm

    Hey Ben , we have never met but I am a friend of your Mom and dad’s and the rest of your family. I am praying for you daily. Praying that you get better and can beat this and can continue to stay strong and smile! You have a beautiful smile!! In the name of God, may the disease leave your body and never return and may every cell be filled with grace and return to its divine right placement Amen! Stay strong Ben.

    Love, Kim Robichaux

    Reply
  73. Bess - August 4, 2018 9:38 pm

    Sending prayers from Mobile , AL. Keep Smiling. You are loved!

    Reply
  74. Dana T - August 4, 2018 10:26 pm

    Keep smiling Ben! Sending prayers from St. Martinville, LA for you and your family. – Dana T.

    Reply
  75. Mary Lee Morris - August 4, 2018 11:32 pm

    I’m praying for Ben too.

    Reply
  76. Nela Loflin - August 4, 2018 11:54 pm

    Thank you, Ben and thank you, Sean!

    Reply
  77. Dana Dunnigan - August 5, 2018 12:54 am

    Sean, thank you for letting us know about Ben. Ben, we are praying for you! Keep smiling!

    Reply
    • Robert - August 5, 2018 2:32 am

      Dear Sean, I am a newbie. I love your stories. Thank you for sharing your talent with me. For Ben: God hears all the prayers for you. I pray that he will heal you completely and quickly. I also pray for your family and friends.God Bless You. RSK UA 1968

      Reply
  78. Cathy - August 5, 2018 3:12 pm

    Ben, I hope you’re having a really good day. I’m praying for you.

    Reply
  79. Pamela McEachern - August 5, 2018 8:24 pm

    Hi Ben I have had you in my thoughts and prayers all weekend, this is my second time to say all these hopes for you. We are all pulling for you and want a speedy and complete recovery! Stay strong my friend😎
    Peace and Love from Birmingham

    Reply
  80. Barbara Schweck - August 6, 2018 2:47 am

    Ben, you are in my prayers!!! What a gift your smile is to so many people!!! God holds you and your family in His Hands. BEN you are in our hears and in this story!

    Reply
  81. Wanda Billiot - August 6, 2018 2:50 pm

    Praying for you Ben

    Reply
  82. LARRY WALL - August 6, 2018 8:41 pm

    Bless you, Ben. You are being supported by so many people from around the country, including us here in Georgia, with earnest prayers for your healing. Have faith that God can do all things, even those that sometimes seem impossible. Never worry for HE can do ALL THINGS. And realize that you are doing something for all of us with your smile and cheer. It is a lesson for us all. Thank you.
    And thank you, Sean, for sharing Ben with us.

    Reply
  83. Julie Rhodes - August 10, 2018 11:56 pm

    Saying prayers for you and your family everyday!! Attitude is everything!! Keep smiling Ben!! Miracles do happen!!

    Reply
  84. Dana Granger - August 11, 2018 12:31 pm

    Prayers for you and your family, Ben…keep fighting, keep smiling…God’s got you! #WUPKAR

    Reply
  85. Jeannie McKey - August 16, 2018 3:35 pm

    Hi Ya Benjamin, as you know your Gi is always slow to find, read and answer. Thank you Sean for writing Benjamin’s story. All is so true, the best part is Ben’s desire to lick this tumor and help the doctors find new ways to treat Glioblastomas.
    God Bless

    Reply

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