How did the two of you meet?
Carol: We met in college. We married after I graduated in the Summer of 1968. By that time, Benson had just finished his first year of law school. In 1969, our daughter, Lori, was born. Leanne was born in 1972. Benson finished law school and went into practice. I taught elementary education and got involved with volunteer work. Our youngest daughter, Sarah, was born in 1980.
When did multiple myeloma enter your lives?
Benson: Since the early 1990s, I've had a problem with my lower back. In 1997, I had a fall while playing tennis. The orthopedist took an x-ray, which revealed nothing, and told me that I must have pulled a muscle. In 1998, I met a friend for lunch and he didn't like the fact that I was still in pain. Fred Smith, who happened to be an oncologist, insisted that I see a different orthopedist and have an MRI. Fifteen minutes after I left the radiologist's office, Dr. Smith called and asked me to stop by his office. This was in April of 1998, and we were packing to take Sarah to visit the college that she would later attend. I stopped by to see Dr. Smith on the way to the airport and learned that the MRI had revealed a tumor on my spine. He thought that it was multiple myeloma. We were devastated but needed to stay upbeat for Sarah's sake.
When was the diagnosis confirmed?
Benson: Everything happened on a very fast track. The day we returned home, I had a CT scan, which confirmed Dr. Smith's diagnosis. The next day, I saw a radiation oncologist. The following day, I started radiation on the tumor. We held family meeting, then we informed our friends, and then I shared the news with my office staff. Everyone was very supportive. I put together a team of doctors, and traveled to the Dana-Farber Cancer Center for a consultation. There, I met one of my favorite people, Deborah Doss, RN, OCN. We decided to proceed with the Dana-Farber protocol, under the auspices of Dr. Smith.
How did you educate yourselves about the disease?
Benson: Carol did a lot of research. I did not want to know any of it. That's what doctors are for! As a lawyer, when I represent a client, I do not expect them to learn how to handle their case. I did try to do some reading about myeloma but when I got to the part that average life expectancy was only 3 years, I stopped reading.
What treatment did you receive for your myeloma?
Benson: I received three rounds of VAD, followed by TBI (Total Body Irradiation). In December of 1998, I had the transplant at Dana-Farber. Back then, going through a transplant was rougher than it is these days. One day, two of my doctors flew up to Boston to see me. I thought that was the greatest house call in the world! Later, I found out that they came because they weren't sure that I was going to make it.
Carol: But Benson never lost his sense of humor. He has always tried to have a very positive outlook. Cancer did not change that.
How did you find the IMF?
Carol: I found the IMF on the Internet right after Benson's diagnosis. I received the IMF InfoPack and ordered the back issues of Myeloma Today.
Benson: Then we called the IMF and asked if we could help raise some money for myeloma research. I was taking dexamethasone and I couldn't sleep, so I would lie awake at night thinking about fundraising. And I had an idea. Since 1983, the comic strip "Crock" would occasionally feature a character named Trooper Benson. I've been friendly with the strip's creators, Bill Rechin and Don Wilder, since 1980. Bill and Don gave their permission for us to use the Trooper Benson character on T-shirts and baseball hats. We distributed the hats and T-shirts, and Carol and I wrote a letter, asking our friends to contribute to the cause that had become so important to us. In 1999, Bill and Don ran another cartoon in the paper, and Carol and I sent out more letters. Over the years, we've written a lot of letters.
Carol: Then, in 2002, we co-chaired the IMF Gala in Washington, DC. And, this year, when Benson turned 60, we had a big party and asked our guests to make donations to the IMF in lieu of birthday gifts. We raised over $11,000. So, over the years, through various fundraising ideas, we've been able to fund several $40,000 myeloma research grants in Benson's honor. And, in the next few months, we'd like to do another Trooper Benson campaign and fund another research grant.
Benson, how are you feeling these days?
Benson: I take Aredia once a month. I have arthritis in the area where the tumor was located, and in a few other spots. I have no myeloma symptoms. As a matter of fact, when my orthopedist told me that my current back pain is due to arthritis, I was so happy that I kissed him! Now, I don't think about my myeloma as much as I used to, and I keep myself busy.
Carol: Benson still works full time, and he is on the Boards of four foundations. He has a lot of energy!
Benson: But I have a different outlook. I used to worry about the little things. Now, I only think about the big picture. When I was diagnosed, my first question to Fred Smith was, "Will I be around long enough to see my grandchildren?" Now, we have four grandkids: Lori's daughters Ava and Cecilia, and Leanne's daughters Morgan and Sadie. I just love them! Lori and her family live in town and we see Leanne and her family monthly. And the big picture is just wonderful!