What does the word survivor mean to you? To some, it can mean coping with a bad situation or living through a situation that often causes death. To author, speaker, model and cancer survivor, Brandi L. Benson, the word survivor has taken on a new meaning. “Survivor to me means beauty,” Benson shared with BeenWorthy. “I think the most beautiful people have gone through so much and survived. They have a great story to tell. I think the word survivor means hope. I think it means versatility”.
Benson didn’t anticipate her story involving her trying to survive a disease that only 12,000 people face, and 6,000 people die from. That’s half! Somehow, she was able to muster up the courage to endure, knowing that she only had a 50-50 chance at living.
A woman whose initial goal was to serve her Country in the US army, would learn that after 3 months of fighting in Iraq, she’d be faced with another fight. In 2009, Benson was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer at the age of 24, Ewing Sarcoma. Her life as she knew it would change forever.
When we are faced with life altering events, it often changes who are, how we think of ourselves and how we interact with the world around us. We wanted to get a glimpse of the woman Benson was before she learned of her diagnosis.
“I was very naïve. I felt invincible; I was younger of course. I felt like I didn’t really know my place in the world yet and I was less motivated. I didn’t feel like there was any urgency to live with purpose,” Benson explained. Since the diagnosis, “I feel like what’s really changed is the entire dynamic of why I’m here, what I believe my purpose is now and how important it is to be vulnerable”.
Benson realized perfection didn’t exist, and what society deemed as “normal” or beautiful no longer mattered. What matters most is “how you treat people, how you help people and the legacy that you might be leaving behind. Now, the small wins count. I am not in a rush all the time. I am so appreciative of life in general. I can have a terrible day, but I’m still so grateful that I’m here,” she shares. “I had many soldiers and friends who were on the same ward as me and I watched them pass away. They’re not here today. They’re gone. There were 12 of us and I was the only one that lived on that ward. I’m just so happy to be here. It’s really helped me see the best in everything and become more optimistic”.
Benson went on the share that “the person I was fighting for in the hospital that was going through all the treatments, all the chemotherapy, all the surgeries and everything, at some point I had to come to terms with the person I was fighting for – I wanted to get back to my old life – was dead and gone. There was no getting back to the old Brandi. So, I really had to come to terms with this new Brandi”.
In exploring the new Brandi she figured out what she was good at, what she likes to do, what her limits were and what she was confident in. Benson said she had to “rebrand herself and that was really hard to accept”. She realized that she couldn’t be ashamed about what happened to her or else she would miss out on life’s precious moments.
As she’s gone through this self-rediscovery process, she’s learned to love new things about herself and embraces the power of her story.
“Basic training had taught me how to fight, how to use a gun, throw grenades, how to push past my physical limits, combat techniques, and how to defend my country—but this was a different kind of battle. It crept up on me like a stealth enemy in the night. I was not ready for such an attack from within.”Brandi L. Benson
An unexpected attack of any kind is a challenge, but the conversations we have with ourselves in the midst of it can change everything. While fighting for her life, Benson would tell herself that she was going to live and that she was going to be a miracle story. She decided she would use new weapons to fight this war: hope, faith and strength.
Benson is a light to so many. She inspires others through sharing her story on national stages as a speaker and within her book, The Enemy Inside Me: A Young Soldier’s Unexpected Battle With Cancer, which tells the powerful story of her 2009 Ewing Sarcoma diagnosis during her deployment in Iraq and her ensuing mental and physical battle to triumph over cancer.
Benson has gone from fighting for her life and surviving, to fighting for the lives of others. The very thing that tried to take her out has opened doors unimaginable. She’s modeled for some of the world’s most recognized designers, such as Tommy Hilfiger, she’s also a spokesperson for Bristol Myers Squibb alongside ABC’s This is Us Sterling K. Brown. Benson has been recognized by major organizations like The Sarcoma Foundation of America for the positive impact she has had by inspiring other cancer survivors.
“We are mentally stronger than we really know. When our backs are against the wall and all we have are our minds, our mind is going to deliver the outcome that we are constantly thinking about. Whatever we’re thinking and saying, we can manifest it. We can create it. It’s important to stay on the vibration that you’re trying to manifest”.
Benson’s goal is to continue to spread awareness about Sarcoma cancer and provide as much information as possible on the disease, so that through education, others can detect it early and have a higher chance at survival.
For more information about Brandi L. Benson visit https://brandilbenson.com/