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“Leukemia is tough. But I’m tougher!” The Story of a 7 Year-Old's Courageous Cancer Battle

When seven year old Ben Manzi of Springfield was a toddler, he would routinely announce that “when I grow up, I’m going to be a superhero. For my disguise, I’ll be a doctor!” His mother, Kati, had no way of knowing that in a matter of years, Ben would need superhero strength in an unimaginable battle: cancer.

”He has always been drawn to superheroes, I think they have similar souls,” Kati said. “He is brave, smart, honest, and positive. He stands for what is right and fair. He is a light in darkness. He loves freely. And he’s tough!”Ben Otero

Ben was diagnosed on December 4, 2015 with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, and immediately began a treatment regimen that includes different types of chemotherapy-including lumbar punctures, IV infusions, and at-home meds.

“Ben’s leukemia diagnosis affected everyone who knows him,” Kati said. “Every little thing that someone did for us, and this kindness continues presently, has lent us strength and courage, and continues to do so. When I feel I am reaching the end of my emotional reserves, inevitably we receive a kind gesture that rekindles my strength. It doesn’t take much. Usually a hug, or a text checking up on us is enough!”

Team BAM

Inspired by Ben’s courage and in an effort to repay the genuine kindness that Kati and her family have experienced, Team BAM was created to reflect Ben’s initials. The goals of the charity organization include spreading childhood leukemia awareness, supporting other families who have children with cancer, and making donations to worthy organizations. Team BAM made quick work in fundraising in support of Baystate Children’s Hospital, including new pediatric wheelchairs and toys for sick kids. Kati says that Ben’s experiences with the Child Life Department have allowed him to smile at the site of his favorite toys and snacks, ease his nerves about being hospitalized, all while still enjoying being a little boy. The age-appropriate wheelchairs, meanwhile, help to make children feel more comfortable when hospitalized.

“Ben and his brother were really excited to pick out toys for the kids at the hospital! I am grateful that Ben is treated at Baystate. It is a wonderful facility with exceptional staff, who make an effort to place the children first.,” Kati said. “They really care about Ben’s well-being. My emotional burden is lighter knowing that Ben is well cared for by exceptionally knowledgeable and attentive medical personnel. Not only do they get to know Ben, they get to know me, and I feel that our whole family is supported.” 

A True Superhero

Kati says that while Ben is battling leukemia, his imitation of Captain America remains on point. He still garners strength to play with his little brother, Gabe. He loves playing Minecraft, going for a hike, and above all else -- Legos!  In every way, Ben refuses to let cancer get the best of him, and his family is following his lead.

“This experience is life changing. It is hard. It is painful. It stretches and pulls the fibers of your being. I have memories etched deep in my heart that I think will always hurt to remember,” Kati said. “But at the same time, there is such joy. One gains an appreciation for the small things, and clearer vision of what’s really important in life, when something like this happens. We have deeper empathy, more patience, and stronger love. I have always thought that in general, people are good. This experience has proven that to be true.”

Ben’s battle is continuing, and he will receive chemotherapy treatments for about three years. His family is focused on being positive, which serves to reaffirm Ben’s courage. Kati says he will often remind his family that “Leukemia is tough. But I’m tougher!”

As tough as a superhero.