Reaching Milestones as a Cancer Survivor
- Illusionist Criss Angel’s son, Johnny, just celebrated his 8th birthday – a huge milestone after he just finished treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia in January.
- Acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL, is a type of leukemia where the bone marrow makes too many immature lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. It is an aggressive cancer and requires aggressive treatment.
- Reaching milestones during or after a cancer battle is huge. These events – like getting engaged or reaching another birthday – may mean even more than they did previously, so it’s important to take them all in and celebrate all that you’ve overcome.
Johnny Chrisstopher has battled leukemia not one, but twice. So, milestones like birthdays are, perhaps, even more special to Johnny and his family. In a recent Instagram post, Benson shared a celebratory post for her adorable son.
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“And just like that my big boy is 8!,” she wrote in her caption. “God sent me an angel when he sent me you my sweet little love bug 🐛 YOU have not only changed my world but you’ve changed the world around you 🌎”
She continued by saying that millions of people have followed Johnny’s journey, and it’s made them better for it.
“YOU alone have inspired so many and brought so many more back to God,” she wrote. “You are like sunshine my baby 🌞 and you are the ultimate definition of God’s grace and love. Happy birthday Johnny Crisstopher, we LOVE you.”
Johnny Crisstopher’s Leukemia Battle
When Johnny was just 20 months old in October 2015, he was first diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL. After three years of treatment, his cancer went into remission.
Then, in December 2019, Angel announced that his then 5-year-old son had relapsed and would begin chemotherapy treatments again. Now, with the last of his cancer treatments behind him as of January, Johnny and his family are relishing in the excitement of post-treatment bliss.
In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, Benson shared her thoughts on her son’s unrelenting positivity despite having to battle the disease twice.
“He’s such a trooper,” Benson said. “He’s never ever said, ‘Woe’s me, Oh no, poor me,’ Instead, Johnny says ‘Ok, I guess I got more to do.’”
Johnny’s type of b-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia required a total of 1,095 chemotherapy sessions. At such a young age, Johnny was forced to face the harsh realities of a lengthy cancer battle and recognize that his childhood looked different than his peers.
“As Johnny got older — obviously he’s been doing this since he was very young — when he started to realize what was happening to him and that not every other kid had a port, would go through treatment. He would say to me late at night, ‘Mommy, why can’t I just be a regular boy?’” Benson said. “I’d always encourage him and say, ‘You are a regular boy. You just have a different mission now.’
“The first thing he said to me after he rang the bell [signaling the end of his last cancer treatment, again]: ‘Mommy I’m a real boy now.’ I said, ‘Honey, you were always a real boy.’”
And though treatments were hard, Johnny never ceased to amaze his family with his outlook on everything.
“He’s just got this beautiful spirit and this beautiful attitude,” the 30-year-old Australian actress, singer and songwriter said. “I’m so proud of this boy. It’s kids, though. Cancer kids are just a different kind of humans. They are super special.
“Our son got through this twice because he believed in himself,” Benson said. “Yes, he has a great family behind him but at the end of the day, it’s him wearing the cape and believing he can do this battle. He’s the one who has to do this.”
Now, and even when Johnny was fighting the disease, Benson and Angel are determined to share Johnny’s story to increase awareness of childhood cancer and raise money for Angel’s childhood cancer foundation – Johnny Crisstopher Children’s Charitable Foundation – which had previously been established but was renamed after Johnny’s diagnosis.
“We work very closely with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, The Children’s Oncology Group. 100% of the funds go to research and pediatric cancer patients,” Benson explained. “In 2016, Criss held a big event and raised over one million dollars for pediatric cancer. That’s something else we’re going to be doing again in the future.”
Understanding Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)
Acute lymphoblastic leukemia, or ALL, is a type of leukemia where the bone marrow makes too many immature lymphocytes, a type of white blood cell. It is also called acute lymphocytic leukemia.
The American Cancer Society estimates that about 6,660 new cases of ALL will be diagnosed in the United States in 2022. The ACS also reports that the risk for developing ALL is highest in children younger than 5 years of age, with a slow decline in risk until the mid-20s. Then, the risk slowly rises again after age 50.
Dr. Olalekan Oluwole, a hematologist with Vanderbilt University Medical Center, previously talked with SurvivorNet about ALL’s effect on the body and the type of treatments that work to fight it.
“ALL is a type of cancer that is very aggressive,” Dr. Oluwole told SurvivorNet. “It grows very fast. Within a few weeks, a few months, the person will start to feel very sick. And that’s why we will have to give it an equally aggressive type of treatment to break that cycle.”
Dr. Oluwole also says the leukemia often resides in the bone marrow, and because it is an abnormal growth, it just keeps dividing.
“It doesn’t follow rules, and it doesn’t stop,” he told SurvivorNet. “Not only that, because this is part of the immune system, the immune system is sorta like the police of the body. So those abnormal cells that have now become cancer, they have the ability to go to many places. They go into the blood, and they often go into the tissue or the lining around the brain.”
Reaching Milestones as a Cancer Survivor
Reaching milestones during or after a cancer battle is huge. These events – like getting engaged or reaching another birthday – may mean even more than they did previously, so it’s important to take them all in and celebrate all that you’ve overcome.
Chrissy Degennaro is a cancer warrior determined to keep enjoying these precious milestones. She has been battling a rare blood cancer called multiple myeloma for 14 years, and was first diagnosed when she was just 36 years old with a 2-year-old son. When she was given her diagnosis, she almost expected to not be able to see him enter kindergarten. But thanks to 27 rounds of chemotherapy, two stem cell transplants, a CAR-T cell trial and two CAR-T cell transplants over following 14 years, she’s able to keep making memories with her family.
“You know, I do live one day at a time,” Chrissy previously told SurvivorNet. “Now, maybe I can go a week, a month, but things are looking pretty good. I’m able to be here for more milestones for my son, for more holidays, more birthdays. I do feel like I have had another chance at life.”