This is the speech Pat Bensing, Jack’s wife, gave at the 8th Annual Mark Linder Walk for the Mind.
Today I want to give you hope. Jack is a 17 year survivor of a malignant brain tumor. When a doctor tells you or your loved one that they have cancer, brain cancer, fear and shock reel throughout your body and soul. Many people put a time line on the type of brain cancer that you have. We say to disregard that and move forward.
One of the first things my husband did when he was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor and given six months to live was to take notes, copious notes. Jack wanted to make sure he understood everything. Some people take a tape recorder when they visit the doctor. Jack was told to begin radiation immediately the next day. He refused. He wanted to think through this whole thing before committing to any kind of treatment. Jack wanted to get a second opinion. This choice ended up saving his life. He asked the Peoria doctors who told him his tumor was inoperable to send out his MRIs to any hospital in the country that would accept him as a patient. He wanted the tumor removed.
Thanks to the American Brain Tumor Association for sending us free literature, we educated ourselves as much as we could about his kind of brain tumor. Jack was diagnosed with glioblastoma-multiforma stage 4. Over and over again we read that the greatest chance of survival of brain cancer is to have surgery, radiation and chemotherapy. We ended up at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX. His neurosurgeon was Dr. Raymond Sawaya, head of neurosurgery. When he removed the tumor , he said he was able to remove 99 % of it and rediagnosed it as a stage 4 anaplastic oliogodendroglioma . Once again, the American Brain Tumor Association helped us learn all about this tumor. We have also attended conferences sponsored by the American Brain Tumor Association in Des Plaines, Il where we learned so much more. I joined the M.D. Anderson telephone Network helping others who had just been diagnosed with a brain tumor. Today there is the Internet, a luxury we did not have available in 1993.
I hope those of you facing this kind of challenge have a dedicated caregiver. I can’t stress enough how important it is for the one who has a brain tumor to have a loved one , be that a family member or a friend, help you through this difficult time. A brain tumor is a head injury. We have experienced all the tramatic emotions and feelings that come with cancer, plus we have all the symptoms of a head injury. Perhaps some of you are experiencing short term memory loss, inability to make decisions, distraction problems, or loss of abstract thinking. Some of you have had to quit your jobs.
Before his illness, Jack taught data processing at Illinois Central College and started his own software business. Two years following his brain surgery in 1995 he had to give that all up and go on disability. He was suffering from brain radiation necrosis, a condition that affects only a very small percentage of survivors who have had brain radiation. Symptoms included were loss of speech, loss of the ability to read and write or do numbers. Because the cancer had invaded his motor strip, his right side was partially paralyzed and he now has to use a walker or a wheelchair.
With all these odds going against him, you might ask, how does he keep going?
Our faith in God, our love for each other–this year is our 41st anniversary–our church family, our long time friends and support groups have helped us through these difficult times. When Jack was first diagnosed, there was no brain tumor support group at the time, but he did meet Mark Linder, a good friend who could identify with all his struggles.
We have been members of the Peoria cancer support group since 1995. It meets at the Hult Building on Knoxville on Wednesdays and Fridays out at Route 91 Cancer Center. And we are long time members of the Brain Injury Group of Illinois that meets the second Thursday of each month. We believe in the importance of giving others hope and encouragement whenever we can.
Two of Jack’s greatest assets are his good nature and sense of humor. He keeps going without complaining. I have had numerous pity parties, but then I stop to realize truly how blessed we are. We have the philosophy that when life gives you a lemon, you make lemonade. Each day we count our blessings that we have another day. The small stuff doesn’t matter any more. We do things we enjoy–going out to eat when the weather permits, travel when we can, visit with family and friends, and go to movies. Our church family, United Presbyterian Church, has been instrumental in giving us our great faith.
Our parents, siblings, and children have been rock solid with their help and their love. Every day.
All of you here today face daily challenges. We pray that you will have the strength and courage to meet them. God bless all of you.