Honoring Pop: My Personal Fight Against Leukemia


Ben Femminella, Director of Development for the Leukemia Research Foundation, knows the impact of AML first hand, and shares his personal story.

Acute myeloid leukemia is a brutally debilitating and indiscriminate disease. And two years ago, it zeroed in on my father.

My dad was strong though. Before being diagnosed with AML, he had already survived two other cancers. So strong. He was the strongest person in my life. An Italian immigrant and lifelong cement mason, he worked outside year-round, including16-hour days around the clock during the O’Hare airport expansion. He could squeeze me to the bone to stop my nervous leg shaking, and I don’t think I EVER out squeezed his handshake!

But in February 2022, our family got bad news. I remember vividly the moment our family doctor came to visit us in the hospital about 30 days after dad’s initial diagnosis. “Gus, the treatment didn’t work, the blasts spread everywhere.”

I went back into the room to see dad. I cried, he didn’t. He actually told me NOT to cry, to take care of mom and everything will be okay. I told him the name Denise & I were set on if we are someday blessed with a baby boy. I told him essentially: “I don’t have the same skills as you. I’m not a doctor or researcher. But I will do everything I can to keep your legacy alive and help to defeat this disease for you.”

That won’t happen in the next two, five, or maybe even 20 years. Science is a long and slow process of trial and error. But as five-year survival rates continue to increase, and better treatments are developed, maybe we can see the end of premature deaths due to leukemia in our lifetime.