Yolanda Benson: A Survivor Determined to Help Others

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At the age of 57, Yolanda Benson heard the dreaded words, "You have cancer" - twice in one week.

"It was October 2012, a Thursday," Yolanda recalls. "I had had my mammogram and had been called back for a biopsy. That day the doctor told me it was breast cancer. I was shocked, but I thought ok - I can do this. I scheduled a lumpectomy and went home. Then, I began having nagging back pain. By Sunday, I was in incredible pain and went to the ER. After some tests the doctor told me I had a huge mass in my abdomen. It was lymphoma."

Yolanda had two separate types of cancer. She faced two separate treatment paths and a future that most of us can't even begin to imagine. "I'm so thankful for my daughter - she went to all of my appointments with me, which was so important early on because you go into shock. You don't really hear what the doctor is telling you."

The doctors decided that the lymphoma had to be treated first. She had surgery to remove the mass and then began aggressive chemo. A month after finishing the chemo, Yolanda finally had her lumpectomy. After that, she endured 45 days of radiation to treat both cancers.

"Most radiation treatments last maybe ten minutes. Mine was so intense it lasted 45 minutes. My radiation oncologist at the Mercy Cancer Center was amazing, though. He was so skilled and was able to protect my vital organs, which took a lot of work."

For more than a year, Yolanda underwent grueling treatment. And through it all, she continued to work as a lobbyist at the state capitol. "One day one of the nurses asked me why I had a business suit on," she recalls. "I explained that I was going to work afterward. She was shocked! She said 99 percent of the patients undergoing my treatment aren't able to work. I told her, 'Well I have to work... and I can work... so I am!"

Yolanda says that her positive attitude is what got her through that dark time. "Never once did I allow myself to ask, 'Why me?'. Especially at the infusion center at the Mercy Cancer Center. I met people there who would never be able to stop treatment - it would be a lifelong thing for them. I couldn't feel sorry for myself."

Yolanda completed her last maintenance treatment last year. She says right now she feels great and her doctors tell her that her regular scans continue to look good. She is back to doing Cross Fit, spin classes and Pilates - and of course, working at the state capitol.

In addition to her optimistic spirit, she credits the doctors and nurses at the Mercy Cancer Center for saving her life. "I battled for my life. I really did. And those doctors and nurses were right by my side every step of the way. They are remarkable. So supportive, so good at what they do. I felt like I was their only patient. It was incredible. I can't say enough good things about them."

Now Yolanda is focused on using her restored health to serve others. She has become a peer navigator at the Mercy Cancer Center, helping other people facing a cancer diagnosis get through their journey. And she is nominated for the Leukemia/Lymphoma Society's Woman of the Year. "Through the Woman of the Year program, I hope to raise funds to help others get the treatment they need and to give others hope. I want to do whatever I can to make a difference for others facing a cancer diagnosis."

In the meantime, Yolanda encourages all women to take control of their health. "Do what you can - be active now, because you never know when that may be taken away from you. Control the aspects of your health that you can - like diet, exercise. Because, as I learned, there are other aspects of your health that you can't control."

To learn more about Yolanda's Woman of the Year campaign and to support her, visit the website here.

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