Heartbreaking Photos of 5-Year-Old Comforting Brother After Chemo Show Reality of Childhood Cancer

Beckett Burge
Facebook/Beckett Strong

A mother is sharing her family's heartbreaking story in a series of photos that show the true toll having a child with cancer can take not just on the patient and parents but also on their siblings. Little Beckett Burge was diagnosed with very high risk Pre-B Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia in 2018, but photos of his sister comforting him while he stands sick over the toilet have gone viral, after his mother Kaitlin explained that this is the side of childhood cancer we never see.

  • Beckett was only 3 years old when he was diagnosed with cancer, in news that blindsided his family.

    GoFundMe page, which has since been created to help cover medical costs, shares that the Burges first discovered their little "spitfire with a huge personality and a contagious smile" was seriously ill on April 25, 2018. 

    In addition to his leukemia diagnosis, Beckett was also diagnosed with pneumonia in his left lung and acute respiratory failure. Since then, Kaitlin tells CafeMom, the family has gone through agonizing ups and downs, as Beckett has lost both his hair and the ability to walk (twice) in the year-and-a-half that has passed since his diagnosis.

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  • Watching his sister struggle to understand her brother's illness has been another painful part of the journey the mom of two never expected.

    Kaitlin says that at first, her 5-year-old daughter, Aubrey, didn't fully grasp what was happening to her little brother. But over time, she's slowly come to realize that life is a little different for Beckett than it is for most other 4-year-olds. And in the process, it's actually brought the siblings closer.

    "When Beckett was first born, she wanted him gone," Kaitlin says, looking back on how their relationship has changed. "She wanted him sent back to the hospital." 

    That all took a turn when the newborn hit 3 months old, and Aubrey "started to realize he was here for the long haul," says Kaitlin. "She adapted [and] from that point on, they became best friends."

    But how do you explain to a 5-year-old that her best friend is seriously sick? 

    "You always hear about the financial and medical struggles [of cancer], but how often do you hear about the struggles families with other children face?" Kaitlin wrote in a post on Beckett Strong, a Facebook page she created to update friends, family, and her community on Beckett's progress.

  • Aubrey, who is about 15 months older than her brother, began seeing changes in him last year, which was nothing short of heartbreaking for Kaitlin.

    The siblings had become as thick as thieves, but it was hard for the little girl to ignore the fact that suddenly, they went from "playing in school and at home together to sitting in a cold hospital room together," their mom recalled in her post.

    "My then 4-year-old watched her brother go from an ambulance to the ICU," the mom continued. "She watched a dozen doctors throw a mask over his face, poke and prod him with needles, pump a dozen medications through his body, all while he laid there helplessly. She wasn’t sure what was happening. All she knew was that something was wrong with her brother, her best friend.

    "The lively, energetic, and outgoing little brother she once knew was now a quiet, sick, and very sleepy little boy," she added.

  • It's for this reason the mom decided to post the heartbreaking photos on Facebook, as upsetting as they are.

    Almost immediately, they triggered an outpouring of emotion across Facebook, leading them to be shared over 29,000 times so far.

    "Not a lot of people understand the reality of childhood cancer as it is," Kaitlin tells CafeMom when asked why she chose to post the photos. "Siblings often are forgotten about. To show others how cancer can affect the entire family is the first step to raising awareness."

    As difficult as this experience has been, however, it seems to have made her family stronger. At just 5 years old, Aubrey has rallied behind her brother even more since his diagnosis, and it's been a beautiful thing to witness (albeit bittersweet). 

    "When he got sick, she wasn’t sure what was happening or why, but she continued to stick by him," Kaitlin says. "She FaceTimed him. She came up to see him. It was important to me to keep her involved as much as possible in an effort to prevent not only resentment and jealousy, but to teach her that siblings stick together."

  • The good news is, Beckett is thriving -- not only has his hair grown back, but he's also relearned how to walk.

    Despite recent gains, his mom says he still faces struggles ahead, which is why the family is "overly cautious with him."

    His treatment has also caused new symptoms that he'll have to combat too. 

    "He has issues with his chemotherapy mixed with his anti-fungal medication that causes his skin to turn a bright red -- similar to that of a sunburn," Kaitlin shares. "They refer to this as photosensitivity."

    But in the end, the mom says she didn't share the photos to remind people how bad her son has it -- she did it to raise awareness of how cancer takes its toll on the whole family. She also hopes that by spreading Beckett's story, she can also remind others of how dramatically underfunded childhood cancer research truly is. Only 4 percent of federal cancer research spending goes to pediatric cancers in particular.

    "I hope that people will also realize the severity of the cancer our children today fight and how a simple cold could be fatal for them," she adds. "Families' lives change the second they receive the diagnosis and likely never return to 'normal.'"