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.
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:…