Rainbows in the Clouds
Benji the Brave
Earlier this year, Sarasota said goodbye to one of its most promising young culinary talents. Benjamin Gilkey was only 9 years old when he died in February. He had courageously battled leukemia for more than two years.
Benji loved to work in the kitchen. His aspired to be a restaurateur one day. He was constantly scheming up new recipes, and requesting games of “Chopped.” Perhaps his most innovative creation was the omelet sandwich, which surely would have been a frequently requested dish. His knife skills were enviable. His palate for seasoning was refined. Cooking made him feel proud.
After his cancer diagnosis, Benji joined his family in learning about ingredients that might help his body heal. During each phase of treatment we would hang a list of “Superfoods” on the refrigerator for reference: cruciferous vegetables for their powerful antioxidants, bone broth for its protein-building amino acids, and turmeric for its anti-inflammatory agent, curcumin. There were many others. Benji loved turmeric and ingeniously decided to season his oven-roasted potatoes with the spice. Black pepper is a key ingredient to this recipe, as it increases the turmeric’s bioavailability.
Benji loved to create delicious things to eat because he loved to make people happy, even in the hospital, during his final months of life. The Child Life team at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital brought an oven to the floor, and Benji was able to make pizza from scratch, along with amazing stuffed peppers and holiday cookies. He dreamed up the idea for his own line of soda, and we happily provided him with the tools he would need. His concoctions were delicious, and he treated his nurses to frequent taste tests. (Orange pineapple was my personal favorite.)
To honor Benjamin’s bravery, and to try and give other families hope where our hope ended, we have established The Benjamin Gilkey Fund for Innovative Pediatric Cancer Research. This fund exists to fuel the passions of investigative physician researchers within the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Institute. It will make new options available in the face of unexpected obstacles and help to improve, prolong, and preserve the lives of children like Benjamin, who are unique, brave, and unbelievably strong.
In the kitchen and in life, Benjamin was creative, brave, and empathetic. These are the traits that will be necessary as those who conduct research in his name move forward. We are confident that with his spirit as our ever present inspiration, and with our community firmly at our backs, this fund will make life a little sweeter for families faced with pediatric cancer in the future.