For Ben Pearson, being a teen volunteer at Cedars-Sinai means more than asking patients how they’re doing or delivering a stack of magazines to their room—it’s about giving back.
At the age of 6, Ben was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia. After 3 years of treatment at Cedars-Sinai, he was in remission and had developed a strong interest in medicine.
“I like sharing my story with patients because it’s a way to connect through a shared experience.”
When he was old enough, he came back to Cedars-Sinai as a volunteer. Now, the high school junior plans to be a surgical oncologist.
“Being able to tell patients, ‘I know what you’re going through. I was also stuck in a bed for months. I get it.’—it really makes a difference,” Ben says of his time with patients. “I like sharing my story with them because it’s a way to connect through a shared experience and I think they appreciate that.”
For the 17-year-old, Cedars-Sinai has become a second home. It’s a place where he has a history, has made special connections, and a place where he feels comfortable.
“I learned a lot through the process. Even though cancer was a bad thing, I was able to turn the experience into something good,” says Ben.
At the age of 6, when Ben started to tire easily and have difficulty sleeping, his mom Nicole became suspicious. He started having leg pains and stomach aches.
She took Ben to Cedars-Sinai to get him checked out. After some tests, Nicole found out her son had cancer.
“I was thinking he had appendicitis. I never thought in a million years it was leukemia,” she says.
“Being a kid in a hospital was tough, but Joanne always made sure I had an outlet that allowed me to feel like a kid.”
After the diagnosis, Ben spent many days in the hospital getting IV chemotherapy treatments. He later began taking oral medications to weaken the cancer, with treatment continuing for over 3 years.
“I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know how bad it was and I didn’t know the full extent of what was wrong,” recalls Ben.
Although Ben doesn’t recall much about his treatment, he remembers the kindness of his oncology doctors, nurses, and social workers, especially the compassion of hematology-oncology child life specialist Joanne Ordono.
“Being a kid in a hospital was tough, but Joanne always made sure I had an outlet that allowed me to feel like a kid,” he says. “She let me stay in the play room for as long as I wanted. She also always had a project for me to work on, and honestly that helped me stay a kid.”
“I remember when people used to visit me in the hospital and that made me feel good and I just want to do the same for the patients here.”
When Ben found out his last chemo treatment was coming up—right after his 10th birthday—he wasn’t as excited as his mother anticipated.
“He said, ‘I’m sad. I’m going to miss all my friends,'” says Nicole. “Believe it or not, that made perfect sense because Cedars-Sinai was such a huge part of Ben’s life, my life, our family’s life.”
Even now, Joanne remembers Ben as a “rock star patient and person,” and is not surprised by his current generosity to other patients at Cedars-Sinai.
“Ben was a smart, kind, and loving kid when he was here years ago and has grown into that same person, and a lot of that also had to do with how great his parents are,” Joanne says.
While volunteering, Ben makes a conscious effort to connect with patients on a personal level—showing them same kindness Joanne did with him.
During a recent volunteer shift, Ben surprised patient Eddie Tobar when he talked about his own journey with cancer.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Eddie says. “When he was telling me the story I couldn’t help but admire what he was doing. There is something to be said about someone who wants to give back to society.”
For Ben though, he looks at it as a way to make a patient feel more comfortable and make the conversation more personal—a chance to get their minds off of the reason they’re in the hospital.
“I remember when people used to visit me in the hospital and that made me feel good and I just want to do the same for the patients here,” he says.
A family affair
Now in his third year of volunteering with the Teen Volunteer Program, Ben has logged more than 90 hours at the hospital and plans to do 40 more by the end of the school year. He also expects to volunteer over his 2018 summer break and hopes to serve on the Teen Advisory Board during his senior year.
“This has been a great way for me to get a closer look at what it would be like to work in a hospital. It also gives me a different point of view,” says Ben. “After all, this has been my entire focus since I was 6 years old.”
The Cedars-Sinai staff became part of the Pearsons’ extended family, so much so that while Ben was in treatment, his father joined the Board of Governors, thus starting a family tradition of giving back to the hospital.
“We feel Cedars-Sinai saved our child, and we wanted to do anything we could to give back,” says Nicole. “The atmosphere of the hospital ignited this passion in Ben and we are so grateful for that on so many levels and for so many things.”
Ben is a grateful patient and supporter of the Campaign for Cedars-Sinai. Learn more about the Campaign.
Are you a grateful patient, family member, volunteer, or loyal supporter? We want to hear from you. Your story can inspire others who may be facing similar challenges—and most importantly, provide hope. Share your story of gratitude or see how others are sharing #CedarsGratitude.