Starlight, star bright: The story of Benny and a wish that came true

What is your Christmas wish? Peace on earth? Or something closer to home like your family’s happiness? For a Newcastle family, whose son Benjamin was diagnosed with cancer at just two years of age, their dream for wishes to come true is far from simple.

Benjamin, now four, was diagnosed with a Bilateral Wilms tumour on his kidneys just two years ago. It was a diagnosis that turned life upside down for his parents Robert and Nicole and older brother Patrick – but a Starlight Wish has helped bring some joy back to the household in the form of a much-loved new pet.

When Benjamin was diagnosed, his parents really couldn’t believe that their little boy had cancer. “Our family was split up as Rob or I had to stay at the hospital​,” Nicole says. “We knew no-one that had a child with cancer. We had only ever seen stories of childhood cancer on news programs. We were shocked to discover the amount of children who do get diagnosed with cancer. After the shock of his diagnosis, we began to feel sad, angry and guilty all at once.”

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“We tormented ourselves with questions of ‘what did we do to cause this?’, ‘Was it our fault?’, ‘How could this happen to our little boy?’,” Nicole remembers. “We take such good care of our kids, we make sure they eat healthy, we limit their sugar but still here we are with our baby and he has cancer.”

Nicole says all the prevention for cancer doesn’t apply when it’s a child of two years old. “It makes no sense and it was hard to accept. It was even more difficult to accept that we could do nothing but trust the oncology team,” she tells Babyology. “Our Benjamin’s life was in their hands and all we could do was stay positive, stand strong and keep a smile on our face for the sake of Benjamin and his brother Patrick. We had to make the best of the worst possible situation that a parent can be faced with.”

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Fortunately, ‘Benny’ is not having any treatment at the moment, so will be able to enjoy Christmas with his brother. But he is frequently monitored with alternating MRI scans and ultrasounds every 12 weeks.

Thanks to the Starlight Children’s Foundation, a Starlight Wish was granted in May and it gave Benjamin a reason to smile – a new member of the family in the form of a beautiful Labrador puppy.

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“Before Benjamin was diagnosed we had decided to get the boys a ‘yellow’ puppy,” says Nicole. “The cancer diagnosis put a pause on that but during Benjamin’s treatment and hospital stays all he would talk about was getting a yellow puppy. He would ask constantly.”

​Benjamin and his brother love ice hockey and with some input from their parents, named the pup Gretzky after Canadian ice hockey great Wayne Gretzky. In honour of Starlight, Gretzky’s full name is Gretzky Starlight Starke.

“Gretzky will be a lifelong reminder of Benjamin’s journey. Gretzky brings a smile to Benjamin’s face every day,” Nicole says. “Gretzky follows him everywhere and sits beside him while he plays with his trucks. They have a very special bond.”

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This Christmas Starlight Children’s Foundation needs help to raise $858,000 to grant 132 life-changing Starlight Wishes for seriously ill children, teenagers and their families across Australia.

Foundation chief executive Louise Baxter says with less than two weeks until Christmas, the foundation is urgently appealing for help to make dreams come true for some deserving families.

“Starlight Wishes not only lift the spirits of the child, but bring together the entire family for a welcome distraction and break from the stress of treatment and hospitalisation,” Ms Baxter says.

Starlight’s Wish granting program covers travel wishes, hero wishes, experience wishes and gift wishes. The program supports children with a wide range of illnesses and injuries, and is designed to promote wellbeing and happiness for the child and their family.

About 500 Starlight Wishes are granted each year and the number is growing due to growing demand. Starlight receives no government support and relies solely on the community for funding.

This Christmas Starlight is supported by Big W, which has Starlight wands for sale for $5. The foundation is also grateful to anyone who can make a donation.

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