When little Benji was only two weeks old an ‘accidental’ ultrasound lead to a startling discovery and the first of many hospital days for the Fleitmann family. 

Born in August of 2018, Benjamin was a healthy happy baby so there really wasn’t a reason for a kidney ultrasound, however the family paediatrician ordered one from habit.  

A phone call from the paediatrician’s office to request an appointment in the next hour was the moment when neuroblastoma became a part of our family’s life. Kate, Benji's mum

The ultrasound revealed a mass on Benji’s left adrenal gland. The family were told that it was most likely neuroblastoma. Despite there being no warning signs that anything was amiss, over the next few weeks Benji’s mass grew rapidly.  

Baby Benji only a few weeks old

He underwent surgery at the tender age of six weeks. Given his young age, the location of the tumour (it was near several main blood vessels and organs) and type of cancer (the tumours are described as ‘fryable” and can wrap themselves around blood vessels and organs) the surgery was delicate with significant risks.  

I don’t think Walt or myself will ever forget the surreal moments leading up to the surgery. Trying to act normally for our other two small children and also for Benji. Handing Benji over to the kind doctors and walking away from our six week old baby was literally gut wrenching.  Wandering aimlessly around the nearby shopping centre, at a loss as to what to do while we waited, and expressing milk religiously, as it felt like the only thing we could do to help him. Kate, Benji’s mum 

Baby Benji in the arms of his mum and dad

The surgery itself was a complete success however the procedure revealed multiple liver metastases; the cancer had spread. Benji was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma Stage 4S, the S standing for special in that only children under 18 months are categorised with it.  

Sharing the news that our baby can cancer was a really difficult experience. I think we couldn’t comprehend it. One of the beautiful outcomes of this experience was how our families, friends and our community rallied around us and supported our little family. Kate, Benji’s mum 

Over the next couple of days Kate and Walt couldn’t even hold Benji as he recovered from his abdominal surgery. Gruelling daily appointments at the hospital followed his return home. One of which was for a MIBG, which was incredibly long and arduous process, particularly as he could only tolerate 10mls of breastmilk. On another occasion he was readmitted with sepsis. With no IV access he was back to theatre for a midline to be inserted.  

As tests showed Benji did not have MYCN amplification, Benji’s doctor offered a ‘watch and wait’ approach or chemotherapy, informing the family that both were valid options.  

They decided to watch and wait.  

Five years ago, we would not have had the option of “watch and wait” and Benji would have required an intensive regime of chemo with possibly very significant side effects. We will never be able to thank everyone enough who has contributed in all the various ways to this research. Kate, Benji’s mum 

The liver metastases continued to grow at each appointment and the family of five began to prepare themselves to support Benji through chemotherapy. Thinking the young family would need whatever holiday and sick leave that could get (particularly as Walt was running his own business), Kate prepared to return to work. 

Then, they received amazing news: Benji’s tumours appeared to have regressed slightly in size.  

Baby Benji with his brother and sister

The family continue the ‘wait and see approach’ with Benji attending appointments every three months at Sydney Children’s Hospital to monitor his liver and general wellbeing.

So far, so good. 

We are very aware that we are one of the lucky families. It was a very surreal and dark time for us, but in no way have we had a hard time compared to many families who have gone through so much worse with this disease. We think and talk about the many children and families affected by neuroblastoma with our children. Neuroblastoma Australia was a wonderful support and resource throughout this time. They are invaluable. Kate, Benji’s mum 

Benji is our November Superhero

Benji and his family took part and fundraised at Run2Cure Neuroblastoma 2020 to raise awareness and vitally needed funding for research into a cure for neuroblastoma. Benji and his mum at Run2Cure 2019

Find out how you can fundraise for children like Benji and help bring us one step closer to a cure.