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| April 26th, 2024

Meet Wendy Benz: Battling for Benz

By susan Meet Wendy Benz: Battling for Benz

Step into Wendy Benz’s inspiring story of courage and resilience as she battles sarcoma. From diagnosis to unexpected surprises, Wendy’s journey touches hearts. Discover how, in less than two weeks, over $7,000 was raised with 150 participants for sarcoma research.

Her team was a HUGE part of this year’s STOMP, proving again that our community of courageous fighters amplifies the hope we all work to fund, support, and amplify!

 

My name is Wendy Benz.  I have been married to my amazing husband for 25 years and we have 3 beautiful children.  A daughter who is 16, a son who is 14, and another daughter who is 14 (yes, we were blessed with twins!) Our kids are our life, and we enjoy spending quality time with them whenever we can.  At this point in their lives, this mostly entails driving them to and from sporting practices and events and of course, supporting them at athletic as well as school and life events.  We are an active family so when not at a sporting event we like to be outside, doing projects together, playing games or in the kitchen trying new recipes.  Fitness, nutrition, and overall wellness have always been passions of mine and we work out daily in hopes of instilling lifelong wellness into our children. I am also an educator and have been teaching middle school science for over 25 years. Loving and teaching kids is my passion.  I love the energy and enthusiasm of middle school students and have been blessed to find “my home” at Cannon School in Concord, NC where I have been teaching for over 18 years. One of the things I love most about being able to teach at Cannon is that I can continue to connect and support my students as they move on to high school and find their passions for athletics, arts, technology and so much more.

 

This past November, I began having unusual stomach pain while at work.  It is rare that I get sick, so my friends and colleagues nagged me to go see a doctor.  I made an appointment with a GI doctor, and she said based on my symptoms she would like to get a CT to rule out different things like a potential blockage. I went for my CT a few days later and as I was walking back into the house my phone rang and it was my GI doctor. She said she did not have a full report, but the CT showed masses and internal bleeding in my abdomen and told me to go to the ER immediately. This was shocking, confusing and scary.  My husband was with me, so we told the kids through tears that they found something in my CT. We reassured them that I would be ok, and we headed out to the ER.  The next few days were overwhelming.  Starting in the ER and after admission to the hospital the word cancer started being used by every clinician we met. We were in shock and still couldn’t believe that I had cancer. It was in the hospital that we finally learned that there were multiple masses in my abdomen with one larger mass in the lower left region. Next steps were to identify what type of cancer I had so we could begin treatment.  A CT-guided biopsy was ordered and after two weeks of waiting impatiently for results, we learned that I had a form of Sarcoma called pleiomorphic rhabdomyosarcoma. At this time, I was directed to LCI in Charlotte to the Rare and Complex Cancer department as there are not many doctors or centers who specialize in the treatment of sarcomas. Once here doctors wanted more information and ordered a PET scan.  By this time, about a month after the initial findings, my tumor had become unbearable, and I could feel it and see it protruding from my belly. I was in constant pain and was extremely uncomfortable.  While scary, I was happy to start the intensive AIMS chemotherapy regimen as I needed this to shrink and had faith that it would. The chemotherapy regime was a lot more than I expected and I was shocked at how difficult a time a relatively healthy adult could have because of this regimen.  I experienced a blot clot, and fluid retention, and my blood levels dropped so severely I was constantly receiving blood transfusions.  By the end of round 3 (9 weeks), I had been hospitalized several times for neutropenic fever and transfused at least 4 times.  The one saving grace to this difficult 9 weeks was that a follow up CT showed that the chemo was working!!  My tumors had all shrunken and were now showing necrosis (death of tissue in the mass.)  This was great news, but I still had 3 more rounds to go.  I was starting to feel so depleted by the chemo that I spoke to my doctors.  They considered the side effects and said it would be best to reduce my chemo by 20%.  This is done all the time in clinical trials and a 20% reduction lessens the side effects but still has the same efficacy.

 

I went in for round 4 somewhat reluctantly but found that I was better able to tolerate the chemo. I am now just getting out of week 5 and am excited to say a second follow up CT right before week 5 showed that the tumor continues to shrink.  I am blessed that the regime is working and thrilled that I am heading into my last inpatient chemotherapy in a few weeks.  The next steps in the journey are still unknown/ What we do know is that this is just the beginning of my battle as the location of my tumors makes them likely inoperable and not a candidate for radiation. We continue to look for new advances and talk with my team at LCI about what treatment options are available.  We are hopeful that the research done by LCI and other Sarcoma specialists around the country will allow me to get back into the classroom and lead an active lifestyle once again.  I am a fighter and plan on continuing to battle this terrible disease.  I will not let this take me from my incredible family or my supportive community.  This is a true battle, and I am still standing tall because of all of the amazing people I have supporting me. My husband who has been by my side each step of the way, my loving children whose unconditional love have given me something to fight for, my Cannon family who has fed my family and embraced me with prayer and regular notes of love and encouragement and my family and friends who have sent prayers, notes, gift baskets, meals and shown their love and support in so many ways. Finally, my bosses at Cannon School worked with me to provide the time I needed to focus on my health and healing.  I am truly blessed.  While this is going to continue to be a battle, I am ready to fight and continue the journey.  #BattlingforBenz.

 

About the Stomp

 

I came across the Sarcoma Stomp (Paula Takacs Foundation) early in my cancer journey as I began researching support groups and ways to be involved in the fight against Sarcoma.  I had thought about attending the large event in Charlotte, but once chemo began, I did not think I would be able to attend this year.  I mentioned this to my daughter and to a few of my friends.  Ironically, they had already learned of the organization and were thinking of ways to make the walk happen for me.  While conversations began just two weeks before the walk, my amazing team got right to work.  The planning team consisted of three people: Molly Friedinger, Alison Winters and my daughter, Lauren Benz.  After one meeting they had a plan to order t-shirts, a way to ask for contributions to the Battling for Benz team on the foundation website, they secured a location and began getting the word out.  My daughter Lauren immediately came home from their planning meeting and started on her jobs.  In one evening, she came up with a simple design for a t-shirt as they did not have a long turnaround time and she then went right into design mode for a flier to notify people of the event.  She spent a few hours on both tasks and by the ended of that night, fliers were ready to be hung around school, were posted on social media, and distributed to community members. Once the information was out, Alison and Molly ordered the shirts, secured the clubhouse in my neighborhood, and had a plan for the walk.  Lauren, then spent several hours making a large poster to bring to the event. Once done, they took the poster to school and had both middle and high school students sign, showing their love and support even if they could not attend the event.  The team was impressive.  Lauren asked a few friends to help on the day of the event and within minutes we had coolers for waters and popsicles, a table with the shirts, bracelets and stickers and some yard games set up for when you were not walking.  Molly had even gone so far as to secure a golf cart to lead the walk and to have in case I could not walk the entire set path.  Amazing.

 

The walk was a huge success!  In two weeks, they were able to create, sell and distribute over 125 shirts, raise over $7000 for Sarcoma research, and host an event with over 150 people.  I felt so loved and am thrilled that we were able to raise money for this very deserving and needed cause.

 

Thank you,

Wendy Benz

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