MasterChef Junior's Ben Watkins Dies of Rare Form of Cancer 3 Years After Parents' Deaths
Ben Watkins, a fan favorite contestant on MasterChef Junior, has died. He was 14.
Ben died on Monday, the Chicago Tribune reported Tuesday, after struggling with a rare form of cancer for a year and a half. The teen's death comes three years after both his parents were killed in a domestic violence incident in 2017.
In a statement issued Monday, Ben's uncle Anthony Edwards and grandmother Donna Edwards said that he had gone "home to be with his mother."
"After losing both his parents in September 2017, we have marveled at Ben's strength, courage and love for life," the statement, shared on a GoFundMe campaign page, said. "He never, ever complained. Ben was and will always be the strongest person we know."
Days before his 13th birthday last year, Ben was diagnosed with Angiomatoid Fibrous Histiocytoma, an extremely rare soft tissue tumor that occurs in only a small number of children and young adults.
"When Ben's rare illness was shared with the world, he was so heartened by the outpouring of love he received from every corner of the globe — especially here in his hometown of Gary, Indiana. We cannot thank this community enough for holding out family up in prayer and for all that you've done."
"Ben suffered more than his share in his fourteen years on this Earth but we take solace in that his suffering is finally over and in that, in the end, Ben knew he was loved by so many," the statement concluded.
Ben was treated at the Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. Edwards told the Chicago Tribune that a golf-ball sized tumor and grown into a grapefruit-sized mass in his nephew's neck and that Ben had been undergoing chemotherapy for tumors on his lungs, spine and shoulder as well.
"Despite all the pain and sickness Ben went through, he never complained, not once," Edwards told the Chicago Tribune of his nephew, whom he took legal guardianship over following the death of the aspiring cook's parents.
"We were praying for a different outcome," Edwards said. "But Ben’s lungs could no longer give him the air he needed to breathe. It’s been devastating."
Ben is remembered by his family as a "superhero" for his ceaseless optimism and selflessness. The Chicago Tribune reported that Ben would ask his nurses to make sure his uncle had enough water and encouraged a doctor, who was writing a paper on his condition, to use his name so that other kids wouldn't have to experience the same pain he was.
"Ben was just… so selfless," Edwards said. "It was unreal, the character he has… he had."
"Ben’s life was grandiose in a way. Every corner that he turned had transformed into a statement. It’s comforting to know he doesn’t have to experience such pain and suffering anymore," Edwards continued, adding that Ben "would have been such a great role model" for his baby cousin, whom he called "Cookie."
"Ben will always be our superhero," he said.
Family friend Trent McCain told the Chicago Tribune that Ben was an "inspiration" to "so many people."
"I have seen humanity and kindness up close with the outpouring of love and support Ben has received over the past three years," McCain said.
Ben's parents' deaths were ruled a murder-suicide in 2017, police told the Chicago Tribune at the time. His father shot and killed his mother and then himself. The tragedy occurred just after Ben finished filming season six of Fox's MasterChef Junior.
The season aired the following year, and people across the country fell in love with then-11-year-old Ben and helped raise $30,000 as a trust fund for him.
McCain told the Chicago Tribune that "Ben will always be remembered as a sweet, tender soul."
If you are experiencing domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, or go to thehotline.org. All calls are toll-free and confidential. The hotline is available 24/7 in more than 170 languages.
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