Debut novel a legacy of its late young author

Ben Obadia started writing his first novel five years ago. He was only 12 years old.

In May, 3 Realms was published by North Vancouver’s Friesen Press, and is now available on the shelf at the Coquitlam Chapters store and at bookseller websites; Chapters, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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But Ben won’t be able to enjoy the fruits of his creative toil. He passed away July 8, 2016, shortly after his 17th birthday and less than a year after he was diagnosed with glioblastoma, the same form of brain cancer that’s stricken musician Gord Downie.

Through their despair, Ben’s parents, Michel and Pam, made it their mission to fulfill his dream of becoming a published author. It also helped them cope with the loss of their son.

“When something like this is left behind, it helps to have something to share with others,” said Ben’s mom, Pam, fighting tears. 

Ben’s dad, Michel, a grade 6-7 teacher at Maple Creek middle school, calls the science-fiction novel simply a “gift.”

Ben’s editor at Friesen Press characterizes it as “full of adventure and cleverly imagined worlds.”

The Obadia’s say Ben’s creative mind got an early start. He was already a voracious reader by the time he was four years old and he started writing his own stories a year later.

Words were Ben’s escape from a world of doctor’s appointments, needles, tests and hospital stays after he was diagnosed with leukaemia when he was just three years old. He endured two bouts of the disease and five years of intensifying chemotherapy before a new treatment at Children’s Hospital that transplanted stem cells from the umbilical cords of two different unrelated donors finally cleared him.

“Ben always had a smile on his face no matter what,” Michel said.

And his son’s hand-written stories were beginning to fill binders.

Ben resumed a normal adolescent life; he played soccer, made short films with his friends and looked forward to attending high school at Riverside secondary. He also started working on his novel, the opener of a planned trilogy.

He tapped on his keyboard in the solitude of the bathtub. During family vacations he’d get up early and finish a few more pages before the day’s activities kicked into gear.

When Ben finished a chapter, he’d hand it off to his mom for proofing.

Pam said she could see her son’s personality in his words. The characters he created reflected his own struggles with life and how he coped.

“His writing is more down to earth,” she said. “It’s emotional, but at the same time it’s fun.”

In July, 2015, Ben was accidentally hit in the head with a badminton racquet. He complained of headaches and confusion. HIs parents thought he was concussed.

But when the headaches got worse, and Ben started sleeping for long periods of time, they took him to Children’s Hospital for a checkup. A CT scan revealed a 5 cm brain tumour.

Ben underwent surgery the next day. Doctors diagnosed glioblastoma. They told his parents there was no cure; they could only do enough to extend his life.

Michel said Ben stayed positive, attended classes as much as he could between 33 radiation sessions. And, of course, he kept writing.

That October Ben finished his manuscript — all 350-plus pages. He was also working on the outlines for the subsequent novels in the trilogy and, it turns out, the first two chapters of a book for another trilogy.

On May 29, 2016, Ben was admitted to Children’s Hospital. Five days later, he was at Canucks Place hospice.

Even as Ben’s health declined, he collaborated with a graphic artist on a design for the cover of 3 Realms.

Michel said it was important to realize his son’s dream of publishing his first novel.

“We knew he wanted to publish it,” he said, clutching a copy of the book, fresh from a box from the printers. “I want to give this to him. Hopefully he can see it.”

• Ben’s dad, Michel, may not be a novelist like his son, but he’s kept a detailed and heart wrenching journal of his son’s battle with brain cancer. It’s at http://www.benobadia.com

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