Iliss Marie Benjamin was a special young lady, excited about graduating from 5th grade and looking forward to going to middle school. Celebrating the end of the school year on a trip to Ruby Falls, Iliss didn’t feel well coming home. She appeared to have a sinus infection and had headaches that followed her course of antibiotics. At the end of May 2009, her family’s suspicions were confirmed; she had a Suprasellar, Nongerminoma Germ Cell brain tumor. The family’s faith in God and the love and support of family and friends created the “angelic care” that Iliss needed to fight the war against her cancer.
Iliss endured six rounds of chemotherapy and 30 days of radiation. She became very popular at Scottish Rite and Piedmont hospitals. Everyone remembers her love for arts and crafts – making cute bracelets, hanging out in “The Zone” and shopping! Iliss loved the colors pink and purple and she loved anything with “bling”. She had every “bling” outfit from Justice or JC Penny and even had “pink bling” D&G eyeglasses. Not to mention the matching handbags and silver glitter boots.
She loved her friends and her church, and was often found reading her bible and praying for the other children in the hospital. She enjoyed her life in remission with trips to Orlando and Cleveland to visit family.
Iliss was back to her middle school, excelling in her classes and getting involved with activities at school and church. When school was starting the following year, Iliss was cleared to have her port removed. Despite clear scans, Iliss started having leg pain in August of 2010. Unfortunately, the cancer was back and small lesions had spread to her spinal cord and to the back of her brain. The second battle of chemotherapy was more difficult and the decrease in Iliss’ mobility was challenging. She required a walker and a wheelchair and had a tougher time with eating. Iliss still pushed and still wanted what she wanted! I guess you can say that she was a little spoiled!
Iliss insisted on making several shopping lists for her Mom and Grandmothers to cater to her needs. She had every snack imaginable in their hospital bag and kitchen pantry. Because her mother is a RN, she insisted on having hand sanitizer and disinfection wipes in her purse, bedroom and hospital room. She loved to keep the “pink” Airwick air freshener with the nightlight at the hospital too. Even when it got very difficult to eat, the nurses knew Iliss wanted her Sunday Krispy Kreme donut.
It was a beautiful Christmas and Iliss got her way again. The snow that she missed from Ohio definitely came to Atlanta. The games she wanted, she received. The chemotherapy that she didn’t like wasn’t working, and her parents agreed with Iliss to stop treatment in January 2011.
Iliss had lost all of the steroid weight from the year before and she was back into all of the clothes she loved. Her taste buds were coming back and she nibbled on snacks from the “pantry surplus”. She was able to stay in bed or on the couch and sleep as long as she wanted. She even prayed that she was ready to go to Heaven.
God granted her the ultimate wish, once again, one month before her 13th birthday. On February 23, 2011, Iliss went to play with the angels she often spoke of, in her favorite pink polka dot gown and hot pink nails. She was resting in her room with her Hello Kitty radio playing. Not a week goes by without a testimony from another person who grew stronger and wiser from Iliss’ journey. Her family will continue to share and encourage others to hang in there and trust God. Iliss’ story has inspired her bff’s to volunteer and to give back to other children at the children’s hospital. The Brain Tumor Foundation has provided multiple means of support to the family and even today, there is a bond that will last forever.
So, when you see something pink, glittery or bling, or go shopping at Justice…just know that Iliss Marie may be near.