In Search Of…Hope Lives (part 3)
See how 'Hope Lives' is helping two people currently in the fight of their lives.
LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) — When Garrett Benzing graduated from college in 2014, he was ready to take on the world. “I was at the top of my game and cloud nine. And out of no where…” Out of no where, an unusual growth on his leg. “They found a massive tumor. They classified it as stage 3 cancer right away just due to the mass of the tumor.”
For single mom of two Robin Henderson, the early signs were admittedly ignored. “I started having blood in my stool in September of 2014. I thought it was stress related. Nothing could possibly be that wrong.”
And yet four months later a colonoscopy revealed her devastating diagnosis The doctor woke me up and said ‘you have cancer.’ And I thought to myself, ‘I must still be dreaming.’ I was in denial immediately. This can’t be true. No way could this possibly be happening to me.”
And for both Robin and Garrett after the denial came the fear. “Of course you are afraid to die,” says Garrett. “But knowing how many people you are going to hurt when you do. Because if I’m gone I’m in a better place but they’re the ones who are going to have to pick up the pieces afterwards. My mom tells me not tow worry about it…but you do.”
Robin adds, “I had to tell the kids and kids just think cancer means you are going to die. That’s the first thing they asked me. Given the stage 4, I didn’t know. I didn’t have a good answer so I just said, ‘not if I have anything to do with it.'”
But early on in their battles they were both encouraged to reach out to what was for them an unfamiliar organization called ‘Hope Lives.’ “I expected what you see in the movies that everyone sits around and sing Kumbaya and cries. But I met with Garrett Jerue and he said it’s not like that and they do fun things and support each other and if you need a shoulder to cry on you call one of us who has been through it.”
“Your family knows your treatment and they know you better than most,” says Garrett. “But unless you’ve been there you haven’t felt those things or experienced those experiences. And to be able to talk about that is everything. That’s exactly what hope lives does.”
They’ve leaned a lot on the group during their treatments and have even forged a friendship of their own during the long road they’ve had to travel. For Garrett, part of his leg had to be amputated only to find out a few months later a new growth had appeared. Meaning More chemo, more radiation and another surgery. “They literally removed the entire hip from the socket.”
Robin has had three major surgeries of her own, radiation and more than a year of on and off chemo. “There are days I don’t want to be sick anymore and I don’t want to do this. And you call them and you look at them and they’ve done it. Garrett Benzing has been my number one person that I call because I look at him and think if he can do it, I can do it.”
Hope Lives doesn’t cost its members any money. There’s no obligations or attendance requirements. In fact there’s only one thing Johnny and Garrett have ever asked for. “If we helped you or our group helped you in some way, you try to do that for the next person as cancer continues to come up in our community.”
The good old ‘Pay it Forward’ concept that Robin was recently on the receiving end of with a family she had never even met.
When little Will Nordeen was granted a make a wish during his cancer battle he wished for a tree house. And this crew of Hope Lives volunteers came to the rescue. And his parents wanted to pay it forward. “He has an amazing family and they have a cabin and they knew about a young person in our group that just needed a getaway before her surgery. So they offered her and her family a place to relax and take in a quiet weekend. That’s the evolution of paying it forward.”
That young person was Robin Henderson. “He opened up his cabin for us and had it cleaned and key ready and waiting. I have a big surgery coming up, I may not make it through this and this is what I want to remember.”
There are regularly tears along with the joy and comfort Hope Lives provides and Johnny and Garrett say, they’re ok with that. “Ultimately you can’t effect what happens on the medical side of this, If you can be a part of someones life though and try to positively impact it while they go through this knowing that you ultimately can’t change the outcome – would you be a part of that persons life? And the answer is always yes.”
Garrett Benzing adds, “I wish I never lost my leg. I can say that. But I can’t say I wish I was never diagnosed with cancer. That sounds crazy but the reason why is you appreciate life so much more. But also, I never would have met all these amazing people. And Robin adds, “it’s been exactly what you need when you are going through the toughest time in your life.”
Brevik shy’s away from too much credit, “we’re proud of the things we’ve been able to do no doubt, but it is not just us doing it. We have so many people that have attended dinners, attended the runs, just given us contributions to help our missions. What we do is we are able to put a lens up of our actions and if we can bring focus toward a path to help that is our role and something we do because of what we went through.”
Years ago, Garrett Jerue and Johnny Brevik never gave up hope. And because of that hope certainly does lives here.