Benjamin Goldberg leads Old Dominion marching band while fighting cancer
NORFOLK, Va. (AP) - Benjamin Goldberg is a huge Michael Jackson fan. Even though he's just 5 years old, he also knows the words to countless Bruno Mars and Natasha Bedingfield songs.
His interest in music is so intense that in the spring of 2013, his parents enrolled him in the School of Rock in Norfolk.
But two months ago, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 neuroblastoma, a rare but serious form of cancer that usually strikes young children.
After two months of chemotherapy, which took all of Benjamin's hair and most of his stamina, he was treated like a rock star Saturday at Old Dominion University's football game with Campbell University.
Prior to the game, he walked, hand in hand, onto the field with President John Broderick. He participated in the pre-game coin toss, and ODU coach Bobby Wilder presented him with an autographed game ball.
Then, at halftime, came an unexpected treat - he was asked to lead the ODU band as it played "Thriller."
After being led to the director's chair by band director Alex Trevino, Benjamin didn't miss a beat. "One, one, two, three, four," he shouted, and the band began to play.
His mother, Wendy Goldberg, said that when he noticed his performance was being shown on the video scoreboard at Foreman Field, he broke into some Michael Jackson moves that brought cheers, and tears, from many watching in the north end zone.
"I knew he'd do well," she said. "That was such a treat for him."
A video of his halftime performance is now on YouTube and links to the video have been Tweeted by dozens of ODU football followers.
Goldberg said she worried that her son might not be up for the game. He recently finished his fourth round of chemotherapy and his blood work showed on Friday "that he was at his lowest point. I was a little nervous going in that it might be too much for him," she said.
Instead, he was a bundle of energy throughout, she said.
"He was ecstatic," she said. "When he got home, he wanted to take his signed football and go outside and play with it. I didn't want to the football to get dirty, but we let him go outside anyway."
His mother, who owns the CPA firm of W.C. Goldberg and Co., and husband Jeff, who owns the Route 58 Deli in Virginia Beach, have had their lives turned upside down since learning their son had cancer.
At first, doctors thought he had a virus, then came the disheartening news. Only about 500 children are diagnosed with neuroblastoma each year.
He's been admitted four times, for up to a week at a time, at the Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters.
The Goldbergs, who live in Virginia Beach, are ODU football season ticket holders, but because of their son's illness had been unable to attend any games this fall.
Matt Broderick, a family friend and the son of the ODU president, reached out to the family about coming to the final home game of the season. When John Broderick learned of the boy's disease, he asked Diana Hurst, director of game-day operations for ODU, to give him the superstar treatment.
Benjamin is done with chemo for the time being, but he's far from done with cancer treatments. On Dec. 7, the family will go to New York City's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, where he will undergo surgery. The cancer is wrapped around internal organs.
"Originally, we were told it was inoperable," his mother said. "They told us it was one of the smartest, sneakiest, most aggressive forms of cancer."
Her son has celebrated the end of each chemo treatment by dancing as he left CHKD.
"Benjamin has been so upbeat throughout all of this," his mother said. "He's such a cool kid."