By Bonnie Culverhouse
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis may be the best place you hope you never go.
“With all the money we raised at Minden High School when I was principal, I had never gone there until recently,” said Morris Busby, whose grandson has spent the past several months at St. Jude. “It should’ve been a sad place, and yet it wasn’t. All those children running around everywhere … they didn’t care if they were sick. They were busy being kids.”
Busby’s grandson, Cole Benson is fighting a rare form of cancer – T Cell Lymphoma – that affects the T cells in his white blood.
“This one little T cell decided to start making infinite copies of itself,” said Cole’s mother, Ashleigh Benson. “We were very lucky that Cole’s just barely made it into the bone marrow when we found it.”
It’s very similar to leukemia.
“He’s doing pretty well,” she said of Cole. “The treatment plan he’s on is called Total Protocol. It’s like the longest cancer treatment plan.”
Cole just started phase four. It means low-dose chemotherapy for a while.
“That’s the last phase and the longest one,” she said. “The good news is, we have that Shreveport St. Jude affiliate clinic, so we don’t have to be in Memphis for all of it. We can be home and do a lot of it here. We will be making trips to Memphis every couple of months.”
Established in 1996, the Children’s Hospital of LSU Health Sciences Center at Shreveport is a primary and tertiary acute care facility dedicated to the health and well-being of children in the Ark-La-Tex area.
“A lot of people don’t have that option,” Ashleigh said. “There are a lot of St. Jude families that have to be in Memphis a lot more than we are going to have to. I am very thankful for that.”
Cole, who turned 7 since he began this journey, is mostly staying positive, his mother said.
“He has his moments where he gets mad that cancer even exists. He says he hates cancer, and nobody should have cancer,” Ashleigh said. “He’s got his feelings about it, but he’s usually able to stay positive and find things to keep him happy.”
With the annual Minden St. Jude Auction kicking off this week, Cole hopes to participate, even though he has little or no immunity to germs.
“He’s still in a pretty intense part of chemo treatment, so we hope to do videos of him at the auction and maybe a Zoom interview,” said Ashleigh, who just tested positive for COvid. “Right now, he wants to do the race … that’s the plan.”
Cole wants to participate in the 5K race Saturday morning, even though he doesn’t have the stamina necessary to walk or run.
So, his granddad figured out a way to make that happen.
Keeping with this year’s auction theme: Greatest Show on Earth, Busby built a circus wagon for Cole to use during the race. He and two riding buddies will have rotating adults to pull the wagon.
“There wasn’t any plan; it just came in my mind,” Busby said. The wagon is four feet tall, four feet long and three feet wide. “Knowing he couldn’t walk that far, I was sitting one evening thinking about it. The next day I picked up 16 large dowel rods and sat around doodling with it, figuring out what I could do with it.”
Cole likes to help his granddad build things.
“I told him I’d let him sand some things,” Busby said. “So, he did some of the sanding.”
Cole is also trying to raise money for St. Jude because Ashleigh and his dad, Bruce Benson have helped him understand what donations mean to the hospital and care of other children.
“That was my dad’s idea, too,” Ashleigh said. “Also keeping with the theme of the auction, they are selling bags of peanuts with stickers on them about St. Jude and Cole’s diagnosis.”
One of the Busby’s friends, Logan McCorkhill, works at Texas Roadhouse in Bossier City, where there are always buckets of peanuts on the tables.
“I had asked him about seeing if TRH could donate some peanuts,” Busby said. “He checked and at first didn’t think they would. So Connie (Busby’s wife) and I bought four cases – 196 bags – to do this project.”
Last week, McCorkhill showed up with a surprise.
“He brought us 10 cases of TRH peanuts – 720 bags – donated by the owner of the Bossier City TRH,” Busby said. “This is awesome!”
Some folks have messaged Busby on Facebook, asking for packages of peanuts.
“One day this week when the weather is better and warmer, we will take Cole’s brother and sister and go downtown and sell them,” Busby said. “We may sell them on the St. Jude play day (Saturday).”
Cole was concerned because not everyone knows he has cancer. He helped Busby place stickers on some of the bags.
“This will let people know I have cancer and how they can help by giving money so kids with cancer can get better,” Cole told his mother.
Cole is well aware of what St. Jude does and that his parents do not have to pay for treatment.
“He thinks that’s awesome,” Ashleigh said. “We’ve always supported St. Jude – it’s so big in Minden – but it’s very different this year. Cole’s really, really thankful.”
Ashleigh is a nurse and Bruce Benson works for PetroTech Solutions in Sibley. They have both missed work to be with Cole, but their employers have been understanding.
Ashleigh believes St. Jude is the best organization … “I don’t know what we would do without them,” she said. “It’s so wonderful not to have to worry about the financial burden, and instead we can focus on loving Cole and supporting him with no cancer bills hanging over our heads. I’m so, so, so grateful they exist and do what they do.”
The Minden St. Jude Auction kicks off Thursday, February 10 and runs through Sunday, February 13. Check out the auction’s website and Facebook pages for schedules and a list of auction and raffle items.
The four-day event is televised and online. It culminates Sunday evening with a drawing for the grand prize: a choice between a 2022 GMC Yukon and $50,000 cash (less tax withheld).
The auction began more than four decades ago, and Minden and the surrounding communities still boast the highest contributions of any other city in America per capita.
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