Alachua resident Paityn Benson was born on March 15th, 2020, as the pandemic started to roar. At just four months, she was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a type of cancer. Sweet P, as she is affectionately known, has already had two surgeries and four rounds of chemotherapy.

There is good news, however.

“She is fantastic,” says her mother, Caitlin, when asked how Paityn is doing now, at eight months old.

Paityn is the first child of Caitlin and Keith Benson of Alachua.

“We just finished her last round of chemo,” Caitlin says.

The first surgery was to put in a central line to administer the chemotherapy. The second was to remove a mass on Paityn’s throat.

“We hope to have surgery to remove the central line before Christmas,” she says.

To help offset the cost of Sweet P’s treatment, her parents set up a Go Fund Me site, go here to contribute.

Paityn’s cancer was caught early, in a discussion between Caitlin and Nurse Practitioner Lauren Womack during the little girl’s well-being checkup. They were concerned Paityn might have amblyopia, commonly known as lazy eye. Womack suggested that Paityn be taken to a pediatric ophthalmologist.

The ophthalmologist, Dr. Nausheen Khuddus, said Paityn’s vision was fine. But she had a question for Caitlin.

Paityn is the first child of Caitlin and Keith Benson of Alachua.

Paityn is the first child of Caitlin and Keith Benson of Alachua.

“Have you noticed her pupil sizes are different?”

Indeed, the left pupil was smaller than the right pupil. That can be a sign of a variety of issues, including neuroblastoma.

That led to multiple ultrasounds, CT scans, MRIs, and MIBG scans. An initial screening that showed three or four spots on Paityn’s liver turned out not to be significant. But a mass in her throat was detected, and a biopsy indicated it was cancerous. Shortly thereafter, Paityn wound up in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at UF Shands Hospital for nine days.

A protocol was set up. There was the surgery to put in the central line, then two rounds of chemotherapy roughly two months apart, then the surgery to remove the mass in Paityn’s neck. That was followed by two more rounds of chemo.

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“She has done remarkably well,” Caitlin says. Paityn has had episodes of nausea but otherwise has exhibited few symptoms of either the cancer or the side effects of the treatment. Caitlin praises the support and treatment Sweet P has received at Shands and from all of her health providers.

Caitlin is in her third year of teaching. The first two were kindergarten classes. This year, she’s been able to teach first grade online from home, which helps with Paityn’s care.

“You would have no idea she’s going through this,” she says.

Here’s the best news of all. “She’s meeting all of her milestones,” Caitlin says.

As we approach the holidays, it’s appropriate to note this is a family endeavor.

Caitlin is grateful for the support of her father, Randy, and her mother, Karen. Her brother Ryan also had a special contribution: he and his girlfriend, Haley, gave Paityn a stuffed rabbit named Lula. Lula means warrior. Paityn has taken Lula to all of her treatments.

Neuroblastoma was once a chilling diagnosis. 

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“Today, nearly 90 percent of children with cancer can be cured. Through our continued education and research, we want to see that survival rate continue to rise.” That’s from the UF Health website’s Pediatric Hematology-Oncology page.

Paityn “Sweet P” Benson, the little warrior with support of all kinds, is one of those fighting to see that rate increase.

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