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November/December Survivor Spotlight - Lee Bender

  • December 07 2017

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    November/December Survivor Spotlight - Lee Bender

    Lee Bender spoke at this year's Philadelphia Free to Breathe Run/Walk on Nov. 5, and we were fortunate to have it captured on video. A transcript of his talk is below. (Video courtesy of Judy Bogad, Sequel Images, LLC)

    Sequel Images, LLC

    Transcript

    Hi, my name is Lee Bender, and my story is not so unusual. A little over four years ago, I was a very happy, healthy 50-year-old living a great life. I was a trial lawyer and very active in my community, with my wonderful wife, Jane, and two sons – one in college and the other in high school.

    But suddenly and unexpectedly, I was thrown a curve ball. I had an MRI to check out some back pain that had lasted longer than expected for an athletic person my age, and learned I had a cancerous tumor on my back. I was stunned. We did not know the source of the tumor at that point, but it was emergent and had to be removed. We then learned it was stage IV lung cancer – totally shocking, as I was a non-smoker with no other known risk factors.  

    But, of course, I have since learned that anybody who has a pair of lungs is susceptible to lung cancer, and that lung cancer among non-smokers is more common than ever. I learned I had a somewhat common type of non-small cell lung cancer called EGFR, which meant I had several treatment options. First, I underwent a successful major back surgery at Penn Medicine, then a course of radiation, followed by treatment with a first line medication called Tarceva. Over time, I underwent another course of radiation and had standard infusion chemotherapy – with its unpleasant side effects – for over a year. When that became less effective, I started on a relatively new drug called Tagrisso, which targets the EGFR mutation specifically. My latest scans have shown that things are stable, and stable is good.

    Lung cancer has no cure, yet it’s one of the most deadly, common and underfunded of all cancers. It is the leading cause of U.S. cancer deaths – more than breast, prostate and colon cancers combined. However, treatment options are becoming increasingly better and more available due to the tireless efforts by researchers, pharmaceutical companies, cancer centers, and especially organizations like Free to Breathe, which recently merged with the Lung Cancer Research Foundation. I’m excited about this merger because it will magnify our efforts and enable even greater funding opportunities for research, new treatments, and advocacy. This group also provides information and support for patients, and, at least as important, the families and caregivers of the patients, all of whom I consider survivors.

    Fortunately for me, I am blessed to have a large caring community of friends, acquaintances and especially my wife and family who have been tremendous and are there for me at all times. Cancer, I have found, is a weird gift because it has allowed me to understand how important it is to live in the present; that, in fact, the present moment – right now – is the most important moment of life. And in some strange way, I feel even more alive because I’m relishing every moment. I have lived the past four years and three months more intensely than any other time in my life. While I can’t control what is happening inside my body, I have learned that the one thing I can control is my attitude. No matter how bad I may feel inside, exuding a positive disposition will always benefit me as well as those around me. I have also developed far more empathy for others than I ever had before.

    I vowed that I would be at both of my boys’ graduations from college: I was at the oldest son’s two years ago at Cornell and I know I’ll be at the younger one’s in Penn State in 2019.

    I would be remiss if I didn’t thank my amazing team at the Penn Abramson Cancer Center, especially Dr. Tracey Evans and nurse Beth Sandy for all their support, assistance, empathy, and commitment.

    On behalf of my team, Lee’s Lasers, now in our third year here at the Free to Breathe Philly 5K Run and Walk, I want to say: be strong and be there for each other, for each day is a blessing. Keep fighting, and don’t quit – ever. We’re already winning because we’re here. And now, let’s all go out there and kick cancer’s butt!  

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