Brandi Benson: A Journey to Chart a Different Course

Stunned by her diagnosis of Ewing sarcoma, Brandi fought to change her narrative and carry a message of hope to others.

In the mid-2000s, my sister and I encountered a crossroads that would chart the course of our lives. It was a pivotal moment that led us to take a leap of faith and make a life-altering decision: enlisting in the U.S. Army. This choice came with its own set of challenges, yet little did I realize then that it held an unforeseen lifeline, one that would ultimately prove to be the key to my survival.

During my deployment in Iraq, around December 2008, I discovered a lump in my leg. I dismissed it as a minor issue, attributing my persistent exhaustion to the stresses of a war zone, the isolation of the holiday season, and the profound homesickness that came with being thousands of miles away from my family. Little did I know that this seemingly insignificant lump concealed a sinister secret. It was not a mere bump; it was a tumor, and not just any tumor, but one that would demand the amputation of my left leg. The diagnosis hit me like a sledgehammer: Ewing sarcoma, a rare and aggressive type of cancer. The doctors delivered the news that the cancer would spread to my brainstem, lungs and spinal cord and, based on my scans, they believed my case was terminal. They told me my chances of survival were slim, and gave me just one year to live.

I returned to the states where I was grateful to be admitted to a military hospital for my surgery and treatment, receiving incredible care and financial assistance. This would become a priceless gift in my impending battle against a deadly enemy.

As I was faced with this extraordinary challenge, my mother made an incredible sacrifice. She left her stable, well-paying job and responsibilities behind, uprooting her life to be by my side. With my sister still deployed in Iraq, my nephew in her care, and her eldest daughter battling terminal cancer, my mother carried an enormous burden on her shoulders.

I can vividly recall the day she arrived at the hospital. My emotions were a turbulent mix—I felt both safe and empty. I spent countless nights in her comforting embrace, tears freely flowing, while she cradled my nephew in her other arm. As the doctors charted a course for my rare case, a sense of impending doom pervaded the hospital room.

The priest made multiple visits to my room to read me my last rites, and fear began to tighten its grip on me. I had come to terms with death, the prospect of never witnessing my nephew Donavin grow up, and my existence reduced to a fading memory, which was tormenting.

However, my mother, a force of nature, decided to take control of the narrative. She placed a sign on my hospital room door that simply read: “Do not enter if you are not feeding her, taking her vitals, or giving her medication.” This sign created a protective barrier against the intrusive questions and negative energy that had been encroaching upon my space.

Then, with unwavering faith in the power of positive thinking and the possibility of miracles, my mother delivered a life-altering pep talk. She said: “Brandi, I know the doctors don’t believe in you, but I do. We must believe. We must focus on the positive things right now. Don’t give up.” With her firm belief, my mother transformed our narrative. We ceased dwelling on death and began exploring the promise of life after cancer.

On the days when I felt well enough, we dared to dream. We envisioned a future where I became a published author, sharing my story globally. We saw me rising as a global cancer advocate, challenging, and inspiring people affected by the disease to look at cancer through a different lens. We even dared to dream of crafting a children’s book to bring hope to young souls battling Ewing sarcoma and appearing on major talk shows. The most audacious dream was the thought of meeting Oprah one day and sharing my story of hope.

Today, I can proudly say that I didn’t give up on myself, but I acknowledge that I didn’t walk this path alone. My mother’s unwavering support, her whispered encouragements, and her steadfast belief in the possibility of living with cancer provided the foundation upon which I rebuilt my life. Most of the dreams we dared to share have now become a reality.

I haven’t merely survived; I’ve thrived. I’m still here and have harnessed my second chance at life to carry a message of hope worldwide. In my time as a cancer survivor, I have reclaimed and reinvented my life, exploring new passions and different career paths that I never would have dreamed of had it not been for cancer. My time on the battlefield may be over, but my fight hasn’t ended. I continue to lead a life of service through advocacy work.

Whether you are a patient, survivor, caregiver, or loved one touched by cancer, your story can have an enormous impact. You can provide hope and inspiration to someone recently diagnosed with cancer or a patient undergoing therapy.

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