Arleen Benson remembers the day she was diagnosed with Stage III colon cancer.
Benson, whose father died of colon cancer, had been getting regular checkups since she was 29 years old.
She was getting a routine colonoscopy at her gastroenterologist's office when her doctor recommended she call in her mother, who was waiting outside. Her tests had revealed signs of tumors.
“I just remember being completely frightened,” said Benson, now 45.
Benson, a 1985 graduate of North Babylon High School, is a well-known member of the community and is the nurse at North Babylon High School.
Last weekend her community rallied around her.
Sneakers pounded the pavement outside of North Babylon High School as nearly 200 runners participated in the inaugural Bulldog Challenge 5K at the high school. The 3.1-mile race was hosted by the high school honor society to help raise money for Benson’s medical bills.
“She is one of the most wonderful people you could ever meet,” said Regina Sigler, 45, who has been friends with Benson since they were 5 years old. “She’s very strong and determined to fight this. We’re all behind her.”
Eileen Cibuls, a teacher at North Babylon High School who organized the event, says she hopes this will be the first of many charity races in coming years.
“It’s a great show of support,” Cibuls said. ” This is a great community for supporting people.”
East Islip resident Kevin McDermott, 53, won the race with a time of 17 minutes and 33 seconds. The event raised about $7,500.
Benson, a former nurse who worked at Good Samaritan Hospital, has been battling colon cancer since March 2009. After numerous operations and chemotherapy treatments, her doctors finally thought that her cancer was in remission. But in September, Benson began to feel pain in her abdomen; the cancer was back.
After her doctors recommended a third round of chemotherapy treatment, Benson did her own research and discovered a lesser-known form of surgery used to treat colon cancer.
The procedure, called Hyperthermic Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy, is used for cancers found in the abdominal region, including the appendix, colon and ovaries. The surgery, which takes about 8 to10 hours on average, involves the surgical removal of all visible tumors, after which a heated chemotherapy solution is used to destroy any remaining cancer cells.
Benson was treated in January by Dr. Armando Sardi, the director of The Institute for Cancer Care at Mercy Hospital in Maryland, who has been performing the surgery for nearly 20 years.
According to Sardi, the heating process helps to enhance the effects of the chemotherapy.
“It’s a very complicated, long surgery, but its the only option that many patients have,” Sardi said. “Most patients are sent to us very late; the sooner they are referred, the better the results.”
So far, Benson has not had any signs of additional tumors.
“I don’t think I would be here if it wasn’t for that surgery,” said Benson.
Despite her most recent success because of the surgery, Benson is expected to continue with chemotherapy in the coming months.
“I have young children and I want to be there for them,” Benson said. “My plan is to live to see my grandchildren. I have hope.”