Brandi Benson is an American speaker and cancer advocate, who has quite a story. In 2009 while deployed in Iraq, she learned that she had Ewing’s Sarcoma, which is a rare form of cancer, at the tender age of 24 years old. It started as just an unexplained lump in her leg. Brandi did not know if it was a tumor or something more serious. After her diagnosis, she went through her treatments and reclaimed her life through therapy, physical activities, and other healthy-living practices. Brandi travels all over the country speaking at different engagements about, “Overcoming the Enemy inside You.” She is transforming the lives of her audience by encouraging them to pursue different avenues of physical and mental therapy; to take charge of their healing and wellness. Her mission is to provide an effective blueprint of strategies and resources that survivors, and their loved ones, can use to improve their overall mental health.
LS: What was this tough process like for you?
BB: Well, before I was diagnosed, I was an avid runner and I played every sport you can think of from the time I was six all the way to 22, basically. So, when I was diagnosed with this cancer in my leg, it kind of just threw everything off and made me reevaluate who I was. I planned to join the military to play on the army team. I played basketball and soccer for over 15 years. Sports played a major part in my entire life. I played on the Olympic Development Program and other different select teams. They said I would never run or play sports again. They had to remove my adductor muscles when they removed the tumor, and it’s just bone. So if someone were to run into my leg, God forbid that happened, it would break. This cancer has destroyed all of my dreams that I had at 24 years old.
LS: How were you able to grasp what was going on in your life mentally and emotionally?
BB: I thought I was going to die, and so did everybody else around me. Nobody thought I was going to live. As a result, I was encouraged to update my will in the event that I did pass away because the doctors that were providing my care, none of them had ever seen Ewing Sarcoma ever before. So the way they knew about it was from medical books. They’d read about it, but they never actually had a patient like this. Nobody knew what was going to happen. When you go to the doctors to get answers and they have none, it’s just very disheartening. It made me feel hopeless, depressed, and really scared. I was only 24 years old and now I’m going to watch myself die, my family is going to watch me pass away. It was so scary.
LS: Who has been your support system throughout your journey?
BB: My mother and I had a couple of other family members that came to visit, but it was mostly my mother. She ended up quitting her job and leaving everything behind to come and be with me in the hospital at Walter Reed, which was in DC at the time. She moved in with me at the hospital and took care of me. She was my non-medical attendant, they called it an MA. My mom was there for me from the very first day to the very last day when she pushed me out the door in a wheelchair. She remained with me the entire time. The strongest love you can ever have is the love for your child. She would tell me, “We are going to go through this together; you are not fighting this alone.” So it really meant the world to me, and it still does.
LS: What kind of support did they provide for cancer patients to be able to cope and heal?
BB: They did an excellent job at Walter Reed. They had the Red Cross that was there all the time. So if you wanted some sort of entertainment like books, movies, or blankets, they provided it, whatever was needed for you. They would have different medications that you could take if you’re feeling nauseous. They made sure your pain level was controlled. Different groups were available that you could go to that would allow you to talk about your problems or talk about what’s going on. Walter Reed did an excellent job, they really saved my life.
LS: What was that moment like when you decided to come out and share your story with the world?
BB: It’s kind of like had Chad, a lot of people didn’t know that he was sick. I let in a few people like my mother, my sister, immediate family members, just a very select few. When I finally came out about it and explained my story to the world was after I created and published my book in November 2018. Originally, it started as a journal, and the journal was there for my nephew because everybody thought I was going to pass away and I wanted to leave something for my nephew, who was two years old at the time. Then something clicked inside me. I’m not even sure when it was, but something changed.
LS: What was the biggest challenge you faced during your treatment, and into your survivorship?
BB: The biggest challenge was realizing that the entire time that I’m fighting to stay alive, it was for this old image of Brandi. I was fighting for an old life that I was never going to have again. That was a really sobering moment realizing my life will never be the same. I had the opportunity to recreate and rebrand myself, to really get to know the new Brandi.
LS: If you could give a young adult, a child, or a parent going through the process and treatment of cancer, whether it’s a survivor or a family member, what words of wisdom would you give
BB: I would definitely tell them that they are not alone, even though they may feel like they are. They should also reach out to get some sort of support, such as cancer groups where you can meet up with people and talk to people who actually had cancer, or maybe those who have the same type of cancer. Be your own advocate; don’t always just rely on the doctors, that are trying to find out the information because sometimes, like in my case, they just don’t know. Do your own research. Explore other opportunities or resources that can make you feel okay. Know that cancer just doesn’t affect the individual that is going through the treatment, their families are affected as well.
LS: When you sat down to write your book, what was that process like for you to relive those moments?
BB: It was so hard, I cried a lot through it. Even just the other day I was flipping through the books because I had to ship off a few of them. I was just reading a couple of pages; and even now, it’s just so surreal. My body went through all of that trauma; I learned that our bodies are so resilient. If people were to look at me right now, they would never know that I was deathly ill twelve years ago. Whenever I think about it, whenever I read about it, it makes me cry.
LS: What is that thing that fuels and keeps your journey going?
BB: My why, because right now nobody knows about Ewing’s sarcoma cancer. So that alone makes me feel like it’s my duty to spread awareness about this type of cancer. But what really makes me passionate about it is that so many people, whenever they hear that they have a cancer diagnosis, they think it’s a death sentence, and of course, sometimes it could be. It doesn’t mean that your life is over. You can turn it around, you can be a miracle story. I just feel like my goal and my passion right now is getting the word out about this very rare and aggressive disease because nobody knows about it.
LS: What excites you the most about your journey?
BB: Sharing the story about my cancer journey, or just the trauma that I had to endure in general. Just letting people know that, yes, this happened to me. My job is to get the information out to these individuals. Look what came out of this, look what I did after cancer. I ended up writing a book, I got my master’s degree, and I own a business. I have done so many amazing things because I have no fear anymore. I faced death and I conquered it.
LS: If you could go back and speak to your 24-year-old self, what would you tell her?
BB: I would tell her that life is not over. I would let her know that there is a huge purpose and a reason. In my experience, I feel God has used my entire situation as a testimonial piece for individuals that are going through something like this. I didn’t understand twelve years ago, but now it’s all making sense. And I understand.
LS: Tell me about your businesses?
BB: I have Resume Advantage where we do employment services, resumes, cover letters, professional Bios, and 90-day business plans. We also offer workshops tailored to employment services, interview prep, etc. I do tons of different speaking engagements all around the globe. I’m the author of The Enemy Inside Me. Also, I am a brand ambassador for Bristol Myers Squibb, which is a pharmaceutical company.
LS: What is next for Brandi Benson?
BB: Right now I am currently trying to partner up with different speaker bureaus. I’m trying to find different companies aligned with my mission and my vision for what I’m trying to do.