Jenna Benn photo
Jenna Benn, past contributing blogger

As the assistant regional director of Chicago's Anti-Defamation League, Jenna Benn works to advance the missions of fighting anti-Semitism and bigotry through legislation, monitoring extremist groups, advocating for Israel, responding to acts of discrimination and providing anti-bias training programs for schools. She has lectured at various universities and international conferences that focus on anti-Israel sentiment and global anti-Semitism and she has worked extensively in Israel, Germany, Turkey, Canada, and the United Kingdom. "Chicago's religious landscape is unique because it is the home to many vibrant immigrant communities who are faced with the challenge holding on to traditional practices and embracing American values which can at times can strike quite a discord," she said.

Jenna most recently has been in the fight for her life against Grey Zone Lymphoma, an extremely rare blood disorder that affects less than 500 people in the United States. To learn more about her journey with Cancer please go to http://killitinthebutt.blogspot.com/ or http://vimeo.com/23329273.

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In the last 29 years, there have been a handful of occasions where I have felt fully present, fully alive, fully in the moment. Yesterday was one of those occasions. It is impossible to describe the magic that occurred June 5 at the 18th annual Lurie Cancer Survivor's Walk. Instead I will try to show you.

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This past weekend, at the Gay Pride Parade, Chicago got a taste of what it is like to see, breathe, and live in hyper-color.

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Last night I gathered up the courage to go on a date. It wasn't my first date, but maybe my third or fourth. Dating before Cancer was tough. Dating after Cancer is a whole new obstacle course. I'm new at this— really new at this.

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This past week my voice went missing. Without warning she decided to pack up and leave. I feared I had permanently lost her in the woods, just outside of Traverse City, Michigan.

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So here we are— 11 weeks post-treatment, eight weeks post-infection, six weeks post-reconnection with the outside world. It feels great to be back, but I am not really back. So where exactly am I? And who exactly is this?

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For young adult patients (ages 18-40) who are in the prime of their life, a cancer diagnosis can dramatically impact their trajectory in unique and specific ways. This demographic in particular has the misfortune of having to consider how cancer treatment will affect their fertility.

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Over the last 18 months I hoped for your arrival. I conceptualized you when Cancer was privately dancing from cell to cell. I dreamed of you when I was tied up, hooked up, strapped down. I believed in you when I was checked out, recovering, rebuilding.

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I forgot about you
About the scar I want to repair
Representing the memories I have been trying to forget.

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As I had the scar removed that held the memories of the last 10 months, I came to the realization that it’s the scars that lie beneath the skin that cut the deepest and are the hardest to repair.

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The days leading up to my scan— and the 18 hour wait for results— took a noticeable emotional and physical toll. We were in a holding pattern— waiting for life to potentially shift— for our worlds to be turned upside down.

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In 2010 and 2011 when I was fighting cancer, I made a list of hopes and dreams that I hoped to achieve after I completed treatment and started to rebuild my life. With 2012 just beginning, I am again reminded of the importance of evaluating where I was, where I am, and where I would like to be. 

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Miri Ben-Ari is an Israeli Grammy award-winning violinist who has created her own unique sound by a combining classical with jazz, R&B, and hip hop. Ben-Ari has sold millions of records by collaborating with other world renowned artists such as Jennifer Lopez, Kanye West, Jay Z, Wyclef Jean, Alicia Keys, Wynton Marsalis, Britney Spears, Maroon 5, Donna Summer, and John Legend.

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It has been quite a year. Less than a year ago I was in the beginning of my fight against cancer – unsure if I was going to make it to my 30th birthday. I was bald, underweight and praying that my PET scan would show a reduction in the cancerous cells that had ravaged my body.

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This past weekend 550 young adult cancer survivors, supporters, caregivers and loved ones gathered in Las Vegas to listen, learn, support, and grow. Our hope was coupled with fear. Our strength was coupled with fragility. Our honesty was coupled with insecurity.

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I am surrounded by a sea of boxes that serve as reminders of what was and what is. Each memory is individually wrapped, sealed tight and waiting to be discovered and rediscovered. Over the last few years, I have consolidated, purged, and deliberately parted with many of my material possessions.

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It has been a year since I was tied up, strapped down, locked in. A year since I finished treatment, a year since I tiptoed out of the shadows and into the sunlight, and a year since I left the hospital for what I hoped would be the very last time.

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The Chicago Tribune recently published an article titled, " Social Media a Godsend For Those with Rare Disease" which featured a Chicago area woman who retreated into cyberspace when diagnosed with a rare heart condition called SCAD— Spontaneous Coronary Artery Dissection.

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It has been quite a ride the last 18 months. Some would say it was colored by hardship and trauma, others may argue it was highlighted by triumph and strength. Depending on where you start and where you finish, I would argue it was and is all of the above.

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We met over a year ago. I was cycling in place, finishing treatment, waiting to be untied, unhooked, let go. I held my hopes and dreams tight, I visualized myself on that lakefront path and I was brimming with excitement to reenter the world. As I was getting ready to break free— you were getting ready to let go.

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A year ago today I was fragile but hopeful. I had been out of the hospital for only 4.5 months and was slowly starting to regain my footing. My appetite had started to come back, my hair was starting to grow in, but I continuously struggled to feel comfortable in the outside world. The trauma was still front and center, cancer continued to monopolize conversations, and my relationships were noticeably strained.

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In my post-treatment chapter of survivorship, I am no longer searching for meaning in my suffering, but rather I am committed to applying the lessons learned to my here and now. This is no easy task—in fact it is rather arduous.

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Over the last two years I have spent a great deal of time connecting with other cancer survivors to learn about their unique experiences in managing their illness. Some of these survivors describe feelings of isolation, loneliness, ostracism and misunderstanding, whereas others describe unprecedented love and support.

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A few weeks ago, I had the honor and privilege of meeting Ayush Maheshwari who is the founder of the I AM BIG SHOW, which is a weekly web-based program that focuses on what is working in a big way. I AM BIG focuses on what makes everyday life extraordinary. Ayush believes that there is ‘ bigness’ in each one of us.

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It has been two years. Two years since I heard the words “No Evidence of Disease.” Two years of seeing the world in hyper-color. 2 years of wiggling my toes, breathing deep, and savoring moments. I woke up this morning uncertain of how to approach this day. With my 2 year scan scheduled in April, I was hesitant to celebrate my remission birthday without a concrete scientific endorsement.



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