Durham boy battling 2 rare forms of leukemia rings 'cancer free' bell at N.C. Cancer Hospital

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Saturday, February 1, 2020
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Durham boy rings 'cancer free' bell at UNC Children's

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- A Durham family's prayers were answered Friday afternoon.

After a three-year battle with two rare forms of leukemia and a condition causing abnormalities in his chromosomes, 11-year-old Benji Paulakonis finally rang the bell at N.C. Cancer Hospital, signaling he is cancer free.

"I saw other kids ring the bell sometimes when I was there for appointments, and now I get to do mine," Paulakonis said.

His mom, Francheska Macerou, said it has been a long three years since he was diagnosed when he was 8 years old.

"Benji went through intensive chemo infusions that almost took his life twice, putting him in the ICU for eight days in a coma, so it was hard very hard on his body," Macerou said. "But, he has been amazing. He's pulling his strength back again and trying to act like a little boy again, he lost a lot of time of his youth and now we need to catch up."

The first order of business after ringing the bell is to do a few simple things.

"I haven't been able to jump on a trampoline or go swimming," Paulakonis said. "So, I want to do that. I used to go swimming every day and then I couldn't, so now I will," He added.

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His mom is still shocked they got to this point. "We are considering it a miracle. Nobody thought he was going to make it and I believed he was going to make it," she said. "We still have a lot to do and go through for Benji to get stronger again, but it feels amazing."

Benji's classmates joined him as he rang the bell to show their support. He is looking forward to returning to school on a normal schedule now that he's cancer free.