While the boy's peers presented stories about themselves or pets, Ben told the class about his brother who died after battling a rare liver cancer, hepatoblastoma, in 2011.
“I wanted them to know what happened in my life,” he said.
From discussing his 2-year-old brother’s diagnosis in March 2011, chemotherapy, feeding tube, visiting his brother at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, to the surgery that stopped his brother’s heart in August 2011, Ben recounted what he experienced as a 5-year-old.
In conjunction with his presentation, Ben’s Voyager School class wore pajamas and raised $100 for the American Childhood Cancer Organization. Ben said donating the money made him happy.
“I like helping others,” the Grand Haven boy said.
Although it’s difficult for Ben to talk about his brother, and he was nervous the day before his presentation, the boy said he was OK when he made the report to his class.
Elizabeth Heinrich, Ben’s mother, said it has been hard for the entire family throughout the past few years.
“It’s one step at a time, trusting each day,” she said.
In the beginning and even sometimes now, Ben often has questions about cancer, his mother said. He asks its color and how people get it.
But the biggest question of all, she said, is: “Why do kids have to die?”
Elizabeth attributes faith and open communication to Ben’s ability to get through each day.
As Ben continues his daily routines of going to school, homework, playing games and going to church, Elizabeth said it has been amazing watching her son take it one day at a time and carry on. She said words can't describe her son’s attitude or warm heart, considering everything he’s experienced.
“He’s been through more than most adults have,” she said.
Ben’s teacher, Celia Sommerfelt, said her student has come a long way from the days of carrying his brother’s penguin — named “That Guy” — to school every day. Sommerfelt said Ben is blooming and becoming more confident every day.
“To come so far and get through talking about his little brother’s life — wow, that’s so powerful," the teacher said.