Friday, July 29, 2011

Kill It in the Butt is Moving!

Blogspot you have been good to me- real good to me. But I have outgrown you-and it's time for me to bid you farewell.

I am pleased to announce that Kill it in the Butt has a new and improved home at

I hope you will check out our new digs!

You can still follow my journey by subscribing to my blog at the new site.
I look forward to seeing you tiny twisters in our new and improved home.

Ciao for now.


Monday, July 25, 2011

2 feet, 2 legs, 2 worlds, 2 selves- 1 life.

So here we are- 11 weeks post- treatment, 8 weeks post-infection, 6 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?

I feel as if I am living in gumby's over-stretched body.  I have one foot planted in the life that I used to lead, that is familiar, Cancer-free, routine, and safe.  The other foot is planted in a new life- that is unfamiliar, Cancerous, exciting, and frightening.

I am attempting to walk around with mismatched shoes and over-stretched limbs that are being yanked and pulled in opposing directions. I am working hard to get my feet and legs to communicate with one another-but they are both so oppinionated!

The leg and foot that exists in the life that I used to lead has decided to go on a sprint, exploring the roads that are familiar, routine, comfortable and committed to memory.  I run down these paths with a new found urgency and fear that one day I will be robbed of these memories, robbed of this space, robbed of this life.

And then there is the other leg and foot that is planted in this new territory, this new space, this new existance.  This world operates at a slower pace, is filled with new emotions, new feelings, new ideas and a new perspective.  All of my senses are magnified- I see and feel things differently.  I bruise more easily.

2 legs, 2 feet,  2 worlds, 2 selves, that are sprinting and walking in vehemently opposed directions.

How can I really be back, when I am headed in opposite directions? How can I really be back, when part of me is choosing to live in a time before Cancer? How can I really be back when the other part of me is trying to find my footing in a post- treatment world?

As I continue to try to live in both worlds, I am really living in neither.

As I work to find my footing, work to find my balance, work to integrate my 2 feet, my 2 legs, my 2 worlds, my 2 selves, I am still fighting Cancer.

What many do not understand is that while I may not be tied up- I am still fighting. While I may not be awaiting another round of treatment- I am still fighting. While I may not be bound to my bed, mal-nourished and exhausted-I am still fighting.

I fight every day to be here, to be present, to be alive.
I fight every day to live fully, live gratefully, and live mindfully.
I fight every day to hold on to the hope that Cancer will not return, will not reenter my body, will not reenter the life that I am trying to slowly, pragmatically and thoughtfully rebuild.

And perhaps it is that fear that is preventing me from taking these 2 feet, 2 legs, 2 worlds and 2 selves and integrating it into 1 life.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Voice Within- Brought Back by Tapping.

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.

I looked for her on my long runs, but she was hiding.
I searched for her at night as I laid down to sleep-but she was absent.
I longed for her, needed her, wanted her.
She avoided me.

I had so much I wanted to say, but no where to put my thoughts, my feelings, my hopes, my dreams.  I was overwhelmed by a sea of moments, but was unable to capture and share them.
My heart and mind swelled with emotions, yet I was unable to find the words to release them.

I was ashamed that after all these months of clinging to my voice, and reclaiming her, I let her wander off.
Was she ok?
Would she find her way back?
Would she return looking, feeling, and sounding the way I had remembered her?

This past week, as my voice quietly explored the world around me, I found myself lost in days that have become over-programmed, over-stimulated, and overwhelming.

After spending months in hibernation, I feel a sense of urgency to do everything at once, and as fast as humanely possible. I may have initially tiptoed into this new chapter, but now-I am sprinting.

Remember when I said I wouldn't do this?
I need to not do this!

I believe this urgency is rooted in the belief that I need to take full advantage of today because I (we) are not guaranteed tomorrow. At the same time, as I continue to say yes to new projects, events, plans, relationships, I am feeling stretched thin.  I am doing everything yet nothing at all.

As I left my house tonight feeling pulled in a hundred directions, I wondered when and if my voice would decide to return.  As I unexpectedly watched my good friend perform with his band The Son's of Susan (, a woman my age, bravely left her table, got up in front of the band, and started "spontaneously" tap dancing.

Her feet provided the beat.
Her heart was there on the floor.
Her soul was exposed for all to see.

As she pitter pattered her way through the song, I watched her, marveling at her talent, her skill, her bravery.

The beat she created-was the calling I needed-for my voice to return.

And so here I am, with the words, I have been longing for, searching for, hoping for.  As it turns out they were there all along, I just didn't know the song and dance I needed to unlock them.

As my days continue to fill up, and I try to negotiate how to live each day mindfully, I hope I can remember the sound of her tapping, the face of her bravery, and be reminded that my voice is never missing, it lies here within.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Let's Twist Out Cancer on August 11th, 2011

So here we are- 2 generations of Lymphoma Survivors brought together by our disease, our attitude, our outlook.
We call ourselves Lymphoma Soul Sisters.
Meet Noreen- she is a 31 year old physical therapist, daughter, sister, and friend to many. More recently she has become a head twister, fighter, Cancer Crusher, who is determined to laugh, dance, and shimmy shake her way through Cancer.

We ask you to join us on August 11th at the Hideout to Twist Out Cancer.

Noreen and I will be twisting.
We look forward to seeing you on the dance floor.

To purchase tickets online go to

Band Info
Jesse Palter and the Alter Ego
Laser Love and the Heated Heat
Deanna Neil on the Ukele

Keynote Speaker
Jonny Imerman, Founder of Imerman's Angels

Anthony Ponce, General Assignment Reporter, NBC5

Leukemia and Lymphoma Society

Can't Twist Out Cancer with Us On August 11th but still want to support the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society?
Please help me twist out Cancer one mile at a time at

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                CONTACT:  Jenna Benn
TO: Assignment Editors, Planning Editors,    Grey Zone Lymphoma Survivor
Community Calendars                                
Jenna Benn, 29 Year Old Grey Zone Lymphoma Survivor Invites 
                                    You to Twist Out Cancer

Chicago, IL, July 18, 2011….Over the last 8 months, Jenna Benn, has been 
Twisting her way through her battle with Grey Zone Lymphoma, a rare blood 
disorder that affects less than 500 in the United States. In an effort to raise awareness 
and funds for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, Jenna will be hosting a fundraiser 
entitled “Let’s Twist Out Cancer” on August 11, 2011, at 8:00 pm at the Hideout, located at 354 Wabansia Avenue, Chicago, IL.

The event will feature live music provided by LA based artists Jesse Palter and the Alter Ego, Laser Love and the Heated Heat, Deanna Neil on the Ukele, and French DJ David Pelerin.

Jonny Imerman, Founder of Imerman’s angels will be the keynote speaker.

Tickets are $25.00 in advance and $36.00 at the door. Proceeds will directly go towards Jenna’s 1/2 marathon fundraising campaign that directly benefits the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
To learn more about her efforts in Twisting Out Cancer One Mile at a Time, go to

To purchase tickets to “Let’s Twist Out Cancer” go to

To learn more about how Jenna has chosen to Twist Out Cancer, check out her blog

All Media Inquiries should contact Jenna Benn at

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Lost and Found in Love and Tango

Last night, without knowing it, I found myself tiptoeing between the haunting memories of my past and the colorful, newly formed memories of my more recent present. As I tiptoed between what was and what is, I was unsure of where I was.

Somewhere beneath the trees, in a ravine, at my close friend's childhood home, I found myself lost in love and tango.

The captivating chanteuse Gabrielle Louise, a native of Colorado, and a winter resident of Buenos Aires, gave an intimate concert where she candidly opened up her heart, revealing the poetry that lives within her soul.

As she delicately danced between folk and tango music, I found myself wrestling with feelings and memories I thought I had buried.

She sang about her recent affection for the morning light, loved lost, and lessons learned. As her songs deepened with intensity, I found myself digging deeper.

Unexpectedly my mind wandered, accessing and revealing memories of a shattered relationship in Montreal. I remembered his smell, his touch, his gaze as if he were in front of me. I felt the wound that had taken years to heal, briefly open, only to be quickly closed up again by my powerful and protective mind.

Gabrielle's lyrics darkened and became more passionate.

As her music intensified and swelled, I was quickly transported from mending my healing wounds- to Buenos Aires, the magical city I had visited 15 months ago-before I knew I was sick- before my Cancer journey began. She brought me back to San Telmo, where Maggie and I held the hands and shoulders of strangers, as we willingly allowed ourselves to become completely enveloped by the power of tango.

As I accessed these memories, I could feel the frame of the 75 year old Texan who told me to close my eyes, feel the music, and let go. I remembered how light I felt as we slowly, cautiously, and at carefully tiptoed across the floor. We danced for hours without speaking. We may have been silent, but we were communicating.

I then remembered Juan, the 25 year old professional tango dancer, who aggressively took my hand and tried to overwhelm me with his skill and masculinity. With Juan, I breathed deep, pushed back, and quietly screamed.

Gabrielle continued to soar, her melodies deepening, her voice strengthening.

It was only then that I realized that by getting lost in love and tango in Chicago, I was able to be found in San Telmo. For 8 months I have been learning how to dance with Cancer. I have twisted, turned, and tango-ed my way through this disease to understand her, to fight her, to beat her. In Montreal, I learned how the power of the mind has the ability to heal the wounds of the heart. With the Texan, I learned how to listen, how to let go, how to silently communicate. With Juan, I learned how to push back, access my voice and silently scream. I had no idea that love and tango would teach me how to handle Cancer.

Gabrielle Louise- thank you for helping me unlock the memories and lessons that were living in my past, influencing my present, and quietly shaping my future.

Your gift of poetry and song must be shared- the world looks better, brighter, more translucent through your eyes.

Thank you.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Return of My Senses

During the 6 months of torture where my former-self was tied up, paralyzed, and disconnected from the outside world, I learned to escape-by dreaming.

Every night I hoped and prayed that I would dream because I needed the release, I needed the escape, I needed to connect with the person I had lost, and be introduced to the person that I had hoped to one day become.

In my dreams I was able to catch glimpses of my former self, and gain insight into my true-self, who was alive, present, and twisting.

As I danced from dream to dream, there was one in particular that reoccured night after night- that brought me happiness, that brought me calm, that brought me hope.

In this dream I would carefully dip my toes into the warm white sand, deeply breath in the ocean air, and stare out into the endless sea with my two closest childhood friends carefully situated by my side, protecting me, loving me, and nurturing me as they have for the past 25 years.

I could see, smell, taste, touch and feel what this experience would be like. Although my senses were slowly and methodically taken from me throughout treatment, they were returned to me in this dream-and in a heightened state. It was as if all of my senses had become magnified. The world around me was glowing.

This weekend, the dream that gave me happiness, that gave me calm, that gave me hope, became a reality.

After 8 months of being grounded, I finally took flight with my two closest childhood friends. As we carefully dipped our toes in the sand, deeply breathed in the ocean air, and stared out at the endless sea, I realized that it was their loving cocoon, their armor, their ammunition that helped me fight this disease with the tenacity in which I wanted to live. 

Their protection, their love, their friendship helped release me -allowing me to eventually reconnect with the world around me, and allowing for the return of my senses.  I no longer have to live in this dream to connect with my senses, but rather I have this sea of moments to remind me that the world around me is glowing.

Annie and Kasey,
As I danced from dream to dream hoping to escape the torture of my reality, you helped show me how beautiful life can be on the outside, on the inside, and in this moment.

Thank you.

Photo by Michele Prizant Kellner

Da and Mia, Thank you for opening your home, your hearts, your world to us. You reminded us that "one singular sensation, every little step you moment in your presence, every move that you make" is always better when shared with those you care the most about.  

Friday, July 1, 2011

What Grounds Us- Fulfills Us.

For the last 8 months I have been grounded. Grounded by a disease that has taken too many moments to try to understand. Grounded by side effects that has forced me to dance in the shadows and feel excluded from the world around me. Grounded by a permanently changed perspective that I unknowingly adopted after facing my own mortality.

As I waited in anticipation for the day when I could finally take flight, I had a lot of time to think about what grounds me. What exactly keeps me rooted, centered, and focused, as the world around me unexpectedly shifts and changes?

For years I dreamed about moving to Israel and creating a life in a land that I felt a deep spiritual, emotional, and cultural connection to. A few years ago I was in the process of making aliyah, because I whole-heartedly believed that this was where I was meant to be. I was convinced that living in Israel would bring me the sense of fulfillment and wholeness that I was desperately searching, longing and hoping for.

As it turns out it was Cancer, not Israel, that led me to this feeling of fulfillment.

While Cancer may have physically grounded me, my inner world, my emotional world, and my spiritual world transcended and evolved at a speed that was at times alarming.

I had a tremendous amount of time to think about my priorities, my hopes and dreams, and the full life I was determined to lead after I twisted out Cancer. As my physicality became more severely compromised, my heart and mind opened -waiting to be filled up.

While Israel is and will always be a magical and special place for me, I realize now that it is not about where you are physically but rather where you are emotionally that matters.

Since completing treatment, I find myself engaged in moments that remind me that I am exactly where I should be.

I am here today because my heart, mind, and inner world are open. I am here today because I refused to let Cancer ground the other parts of me. I am here today holding the hands of my two childhood friends, taking my first flight after 8 months, with the knowledge that no matter where we go, there we are.

So thank you Cancer for grounding me, for elevating me, for fulfilling me.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Unveiling

Yesterday, at the Gay Pride Parade- Chicago got a taste of what it is like to see, breathe, and live in hypercolor.

This day, this parade, this experience, is the ultimate celebration of life. People from all over the world gather to celebrate diversity, difference, vulnerability, strength, and love.  It's a day where we embrace our alter egos which enables us to connect with our true selves.

As I have struggled to reemerge into the world, and become reacquainted with normalcy, I have also learned how to let my freak fly.

I have started to become more creative and perhaps bold with what I wear on my head, what I wrap this body in, and what I choose to present to the outside world.

Living in Boystown, a neighborhood that is predominantly Gay, has allowed me to feel a sense of "normalcy" during a period that is far from normal.  The more eccentric my appearance becomes, the more embraced and accepted I feel by the community around me.

Yesterday, as our float slowly made its way through the thousands of people gathered at the parade, Mel Malka, a fellow survivor and I twisted out Cancer.  We danced, jumped, and moved because we can, because we should, because we must.

3 weeks earlier, her and I were at a very different type of celebration. We were at the Lurie Cancer Center Survivors' Walk, wearing purple shirts, and celebrating our dance with Cancer. Yesterday, while wearing somewhat different attire, we continued to dance, to celebrate, to live loudly- because this is how we survive.

As we danced together and separately, I knew we both were thinking about how blessed, how lucky, how "blucked" we were to be there- together- in this sea of moments.

As the parade ended, and the overstimulation began to subside, I decided to take off my wig and publicly reveal my baldness for the first time. I no longer felt vulnerable or ashamed of what lies beneath- but rather felt ready to celebrate my difference, my journey, my alter ego, and my true self.  I felt ready to unveil my baldness- because those around me were so boldly embracing their own uniqueness.

I feel grateful to the brave souls that showed me how to celebrate and reveal what lies beneath. I will remember and cherish this day for the rest of my life.

Cancer Crusher and Expert Twister- Mel Malka

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

When What is Needed is Returned.

Two days ago I sprouted like a chia pet.  It was surreal really. My eyebrows came back with a vengeance, and I have a full set of budding eyelashes- short but lively.

Isn't it interesting that the hair that was the most resistant, that held on the longest, was the first to return?
Perhaps the counter-intuitive way my hair fell out, and is returning, is in fact symbolic of my Cancer experience.

Similar to my hair, what I felt I had momentarily lost in the unexpected round 7, is what returned first. My positivity, dignity, and even hope were temporarily tested and thankfully returned upon my release. I need positivity, dignity and hope- it is what got me through this fight. And perhaps the quick return of this dynamic trio has everything to do with those needs. While I may not "need" my eyebrows and eyelashes, their return makes me feel "normal", a feeling I am only recently starting to become reacquainted with, and welcome with open arms.  And in some ways I think we all "need" to feel "normal"- even if it's only for a moment.

As I wait patiently for the return of what was lost, I am learning that I have a deep appreciation of what was taken. This new level of gratitude is perhaps only understood and felt by those of us who know it is like to be robbed of parts of ourselves. As the pieces are slowly returned, I am learning how to put myself together again, and I am learning to be ok with the fact that this version looks slightly different than the earlier model.

Now that some of my needs have been returned, and I am no longer in fight mode, I am trying to figure out what it means to live in the moment.  Does living in the moment mean temporarily forgetting my past in order to be fully present in the here and now? Or rather- does honoring my past allow me to more fully live in the moment?

There are times when all I want to do is forget about Cancer, forget about the last 7 months, forget about what it felt like to be on pause and not on play. And then I think about how it was this experience that has brought me to this moment. In order to fully appreciate today, we have to honor yesterday. We have to consider what has brought us to the here and now. By owning and embracing our pasts, we are more able to embrace the present. My dance with Cancer, has allowed me to more fully appreciate today, tomorrow, and the bright days that will follow thereafter.

Two days ago I received another clean Ct scan. My fight over the last seven months is ultimately what allowed me to fully appreciate this news, this moment, this life.

So Cancer, while I may at times try to forget you, divorce myself from you, and push you into the background- I also thank you.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Embracing Uncertainty: Dance with Me.

Here's to crossing finish lines.
Here's to moving our bodies.
Here's to embracing uncertainty.

This is hardcore.

And I'm indestructible....
Join me.

Flip Flops Found?

This is beautiful.
Rachel and Laura- you are little angels. This brought me to tears.

Dear Jenna,

While reading your blog we realized we might have found your pink shiny flip flops!  They were never lost; they were in our shop the whole time.  We thought they were a “return”, but then we saw the sand, brushed it off, and realized the soles were worn and must have traveled many places.  So we decided to hold them and take good care of them. We knew that someday the rightful owner would come looking for them. Just as you said, “they are the most beautiful pair you had ever seen, and very recognizable.” Anytime you would like to claim them, let us know and we will send them to you free of charge.

P.S. Your  flip flops still have that same “sparkle” you describe in your blog and they will be always there for you to wear in case you can’t find your Reebok High Tops. So you’ll have 2 pairs—one to wear and one a spare!


Rachel and Laura
Cottage Flip Flops
Cottage Flip Flops on Etsy

On June 20th, 2011 Rachel and Laura sent me the flip flops I left behind in the sand 7 months ago. These shoes are without a doubt more sparkly, bedazzled, and vibrant than how I remembered them.  Thank you for doing this- it means so much to me.

To check out the one of a kind Twist Out Cancer flip flops go to Twist out Cancer Flip Flops on Etsy

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Dear Nonsense- I Missed You.

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.

Can someone pass me the rule book?

At what point do you share that you had Cancer?
At what point do you admit your bald?
At what point do you admit you could have died?

Is this 1st, 2nd or 3rd date talk?

What about those that already know? If you google me- you will see me bald, put the pieces together -and realize that I used to be sick.
Anonymity isn't really an option- and I am ok with that.
I have been front and center about my disease from the beginning, and I believe it has given me a tremendous amount of strength in the process. I don't regret for a heartbeat that I have been open and honest about my hopes and dreams, fears and frustrations- it's who I am.

But- getting ready for a date is different. Sure I stress ( briefly) about what to wear, where to go, what to do- but what is the main focus of my anxiety- is my wig.

Is he going to be "weirded out" by what is on the top of my head? Can he see past this $20 banging number or is he hung up on the color, the length, and the fact that its fake?

Cancer survivors don't choose to get Cancer, and we certainly don't choose to go bald. But this is our lot- and we must deal with it.

If I don't wear a wig, and choose to go bald- will I scare my date?  Baldness for many represents sickness, weakness, and defeat- as opposed to victory, strength, and resilience. The way I view my baldness today is still constantly changing and evolving.

So where do I fit and how do I navigate this new world of dating?

Last night, my date couldn't get past what was on my head, and failed to see what was in my heart. I was admittedly upset about it- but here is the great thing about Cancer- it leaves you with no room for bullshit.  Before Cancer I would have gotten upset about the disparaging comment and replayed the scenario over and over in my head. Now, I realize that the comment was not only insensitive but it's just nonsense.

Stressing about dating, as opposed to death, is what a 29 year old single girl should be worrying about.
So here's to nonsense, here's to bullshit, here's to life- I missed you.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Searching For My Flip Flops

As my body and mind continue to heal, and I slowly get stronger, I find myself searching- searching for the flip flops that I abruptly left behind in the sand nearly 7 months ago when I was diagnosed with Cancer.

My shiny, pink, glittery flip flops are now buried deep- nowhere to be found. As the days continue to pass-they sink deeper. The sand is eroding their sparkle, and I fear that they may actually be unrecognizable if I were to actually find them.

Over the last two weeks as my side effects have subsided and I have reentered the world, I admittedly have caught myself desperately trying to find my shoes so that I could immediately fill them. When I catch myself  searching- I inevitably experience a sense of loss and sadness.

I can't go back to the path I abruptly left on December 20, 2010. 
I can't go back to the person I used to be.
I can't go back to the life I used to lead.

And this is all ok.

I am not saying its not hard- it's really hard- but it is also a tremendous opportunity.

I now have the ability to pick out a new pair of shoes, find a new path, and figure out the life that I want to lead.

I replaced my pink glitter glam flip flops, with gold Reebok high tops from the 80's.
I am no longer slowly walking down the path, but I am twisting.
And I am living today- moment to moment, breath to breath, heartbeat to heartbeat.

I wake up every morning from the excitement of being alive. I look at each day as an opportunity to transform and grow. The world around me is glowing.

As Cancer starts to move from center stage into the chorus, and as the new and improved Jenna starts to emerge, I look forward to embracing the days ahead- because they are gifts.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Yoga for a Cause- Join us Friday June 24th for a Beautiful Evening of Yoga, Relaxation and Meditation

On Friday June 24th, my dear friend,  mentor, and Yoga teacher Becky Strauss will be holding a Yoga class where all proceeds raised will benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

The flyer is below.

YOGA for a cause …   
…a yoga benefit supporting the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS)
In December 2010, my friend Jenna Benn, a 29 year old Chicagoan was diagnosed with Grey Zone Lymphoma.  After 6 months of chemotherapy and her own style of fighting cancer, Jenna is in remission and has put her life back on play.  She is a budding yogi who is training for the upcoming Chicago ½ Marathon in September 2011.  As a member of the LLS Team in Training Jenna hopes to raise $18,000 for the LLS fight against Blood Cancers.  Please join me in a mindful yoga practice, an opportunity to provide $upport to the LLS cause, and honor Jenna and the cancer crushing warriors you have known in your life who are survivors or still fighting for a cure.
This is a “yoga for the people” event so every one, every age, every size, every outfit, every ability, every donation is welcome!  Thanks and hope to see you.
Becky Strauss, RYT

When:           Friday, June 24, 7:30-9:00 PM
Where:         The Chicago Yoga Center                         
3047 N. Lincoln Avenue, Unit 320, Chicago, IL, 60657                           
RSVP:             Visit our Event Page on Facebook, “YOGA for a cause”
Suggested donation:  $20/person but any donation is welcome!  Cash or check only.  All proceeds go to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

You can read more about Jenna and her efforts to support the fight against Lymphoma

 *For more information on The Chicago Yoga Center, please visit their website at
I hope you will join us-all are welcome! Together we have the ability to inspire and one day find a cure!
Please email me at if you plan to attend.

Thursday, June 9, 2011


Here we are 16 days after the unexpected round 7.
A lot has happened.

I moved.
I hosted a housewarming party for some of my closest friends.
I shared my story for the first time at Grant Park and led 4,000 survivors in the Twist.
I returned to work full time.
I got back in the boxing ring.
I ate sushi for the first time last night after a 7 month hiatus.
I ran 7.5 miles today after not being able to run for a month from extreme pain in my abdomen which has now subsided.
I no longer have a bacterial infection in my urine.
My immune system has rebounded.
I slept 8 hours last night for the first time in 7 months.
I have stubble growing on my head.
I found a few budding eyelashes and eyebrows.
I discovered new muscles in my arms.
I reclaimed my taste buds, but realized the the hard way that I still need to avoid spicy foods.
I continue to see the world in hyper color.

Life after Chemotherapy is good- really good- almost too good.

I feel incredibly blessed and incredibly lucky.

Actually-scratch that. Both of these words don't fully capture what I am feeling.

Is it that I am really blessed and really lucky, or is it something else?
I actually think the word I am searching for is somewhere in between.

Let's call it bluck.
I am blucked.

I have been thinking a lot about gratitude.
I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude that I am able to see the world in hypercolor, that I was able to survive Cancer, that I was able to survive Gram Negative Rods, and that I am here today- living, breathing and dancing in a way that I never thought was possible.

I feel like I have a serious crush on life right now.

I am savoring every taste, every smell, every breath- and I feel lucky, I feel blessed, I feel blucked that I am able to live like this.

I no longer am living in the shadows- but have tiptoed into the sunshine. I can't say I am fully integrated into the real world, but I am making my way- slowly.

Come find me.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Next Chapter: Magic

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 yesterday at the 18th annual Lurie Cancer Survivor's Walk. Instead I will try to show you.

This post is going to be a work in progress. Over the next few days it will continue to grow, so be sure to check back here for further developments.

ABC 7 Segment: Twisting Out Cancer and Celebrating National Cancer Survivors Day!

My Speech

It feels so good to be here.

I am going to do my best to hold it together, but I make no guarantees, since I am fresh off of chemo, I am hypersensitive, I am emotional, and this is the most magical day of my life.

It is nothing short of miraculous that I have the opportunity to stand before you to share my story, to open my heart, and to let you into my world. Northwestern- thank you for the opportunity, I am forever grateful.

First, let’s a take a look around. Have you ever seen a more beautiful crowd? 

To my cancer crushing warriors, adorned in purple, we know what its like to go to war, to fight with every last strength, and to face our greatest fears. I am honored to stand with you, and I am overwhelmed by your strength and your courage. My heart goes out to you.

To our family, friends, and loved ones, who have lifted us up, held our hands, wiped away our tears, and have served as our cheerleaders throughout our fight- we couldn’t be here without you.

And to the Lurie Cancer Center’s remarkable staff, you are angels who work tirelessly to help us survive, to make us comfortable during our darkest moments, and to give us hope that tomorrow will be better than today.

 My Name is Jenna Benn, I am 29 years old and I am a proud survivor of Grey Zone Lymphoma.

Grey Zone Lymphoma, is a rare blood disorder that affects less than 500 people in the United States.

This Cancer that has features of both Hodgkins and Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.

In December 2010, after months of fatigue, weight loss, flu like symptoms and night sweats, I knew in my gut that there was something very wrong. I went to the gym, thought I had lifted a weight improperly, and quickly went to my orthopedist to be checked out.  ….A couple hours later over dinner at my favorite childhood restaurant, I was told that I had cancer. They had found a large mass in my chest.

For those of us that have heard the three words, “You Have Cancer”, we know what its like for time to stand still, and for our lives to be profoundly changed in just one moment.

That night, I decided, that I was going to fight this disease with the tenacity in which I wanted to live. 

I was determined to kill cancer in the butt. There was no other option. Later that evening I started a blog called Kill it in the Butt, which became a space where I could process my thoughts and feelings, communicate with family and friends, and connect with all types of survivors- not just Cancer survivors.

While waiting for results from a biopsy,  I was desperately looking to regain some type of control. During my wait, I scheduled an appointment with Northwestern’s Oncofertility Consortium to explore my fertility options. While I knew that Cancer was going to rob me of many things, I was unwilling to accept that it could also rob me of having children. I want to be a mother. I want to have children. By exploring fertility treatments, I was able to think about life after Cancer, which not only gave me hope but it helped fuel my fight.

On January 21st, I began an aggressive non- Hodgkin’s regimen called R- Epoch, requiring a 5 day in-patient stay every 21 days, for six rounds.

On May 10th, after multiple surgeries, scans, 4 blood transfusions, and over 720 hours of chemotherapy, I completed my 6th and final round.

10 days later, as my immune system began to rebound, I was eager to reenter the world and return to work for good.  On May 20th, 6 months to the date from my initial diagnosis, I came down with mind numbing pain that started in my abdomen and radiated down to my toes. I was told that I had contracted Gram Negative Rods, a potentially fatal bacterial infection, where minutes mattered.  I urgently returned to Northwestern Hospital, the institution that I trust with my life.

There I was again, at what I refer to affectionately as “hotel Prentice”, on the 16th floor- on the floor I swore I would never return to. Thankfully, I was once again surrounded by my medical team . These miracle workers were again at my bedside, this time working on overdrive. 

Fighting against the clock and fighting for my life, I remained at Prentice for another 5 days. I left on May 23rd, for what I sincerely hope will be the last time.
  It has been an emotional journey.
 While I willingly accepted the fact that cancer would cause unavoidable physical changes, I was unwilling to allow the disease to rob me of my voice. For the past sixth months, when I could not talk, I was communicating. There were moments when I was quiet, but I was really screaming. As I desperately tried to find my voice and struggled to be heard, I realized that I needed to embrace Cancer in order to beat her.
 I learned that is impossible to beat cancer without holding on to hope.
I learned that in order to overcome this disease I had to use all of my past experiences, all of my triumphs and disappointments, as ammunition in my fight.
I learned what it feels like to be so close to the finish line but unable to actually cross it.
I learned what it feels like to repeatedly fall down, and still continue to get back up.
I learned that I love and appreciate my family and friends in a way that I didn't think was possible.
I learned that there is a fine line between vulnerability and strength.
I learned that my desire to live is stronger than my pain.
I learned that my mind is stronger than my body.
I learned that just because I faced death once, doesn't make facing it for the second time any easier.
 Throughout this journey I had to figure out creative ways to hold on to my spirit I held on to my spirit through writing, through singing on the top of my lungs, and through dancing every day alone in my room. In my blog, I opened up and wrote about my deepest fears, hopes and dreams; yet still found myself disconnected from the world around me. I felt that while I was on pause, everyone else was on play.
 So I decided to change the rules. I chose to twist my way through cancer.   During the days when I was immuno-suppressed and I couldn't be out in public, I admittedly was feeling incredibly lonely.  I decided to post a video of myself doing the twist alone in my room, and challenged my readers to meet me halfway. I asked them to send videos of themselves so they could join me on the dance floor. Sure enough, they videotaped themselves, welcomed me into their homes and offices, and joined me.
As we twisted, I was able to tiptoe out of the shadows, reconnect with my body, and eventually reclaim my spirit.
Today, I hope you will join me in twisting out Cancer. I hope you won’t leave me hanging all alone on the dance floor.
I hope you will twist with me, because together, we have the power, to inspire, to provide hope, and to one day find a cure.
 Thank you.
Lurie Cancer Center Footage :What Twisting Out Cancer Looks Like

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Importance of Numbers.

Over the course of the last 6 months, I have become fascinated with numbers.  In an earlier blog post I mentioned how my dear friend Holly, a New York City Public School English Teacher was hit by a drunk driver and had been struggling to find her voice. She was unable to describe her experiences using words, and found herself relying on numbers. 
Holly hates numbers.

After months of hard work and digging deep, Holly reclaimed her voice and has started writing again. Her mind is sharp, her word choices are poetic, and she is perhaps stronger now than she has ever been.

Similar to Holly, I also recognize the importance of numbers, but have not been strangled by them. 

6 rounds of chemotherapy, 6 months of treatment, 6 months that passed between my Cancer diagnosis and contracting a near fatal bacterial infection.

6 x 3= 18= Chai in Hebrew= Life.

2 month's ago when I signed up for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society's Team in Training 1/2 Marathon
I set my goal at $18,000 because it symbolized life.

Is this all a coincidence?

Is it possible that I am placing too much emphasis on numbers because I am searching for meaning?

Before I entered round 6,  I impulsively decided that I needed to move in order to have a fresh start. My apartment reminded me of Cancer and I desperately wanted my home to represent growth and renewal.  It was almost serendipitous that my current lease was expiring on June1st, the date that my body eventually rebounded from my last stay at Hotel Prentice. 

This past weekend I moved from the 30th floor to the 29th floor.

29 has been a tough year, but also one that has been colored by profoundly beautiful changes.

On October 4th, when I celebrate my 30th birthday, I will welcome this day, this year, this decade with open arms.

Every day when I enter the elevator and hit floor 29, I will be reminded of how I needed to get through the darkest days of 29 in order to fully understand how to embrace 30.

Sometimes you have to take a step back in order to take a step forward.

I can only hope that the memories created in this new living space will be described using words like healthy, strong, love, and life.

I believe that sometimes numbers have the power to lead us to the words that we have been searching for.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Patient and Patience.

I have been thinking a lot about patience.

The word patient lives within the word patience.

It is impossible to survive life as a Cancer patient without understanding the virtue of patience.

After 6 months, and 6 rounds of Chemo, I never anticipated returning to floor 16.

As I was preparing to reenter the world, after demonstrating remarkable patience, I was faced with the ultimate test and forced back into life as a patient.

For the last five days I fought for my life, fought against the clock and fought against fear and anxiety.

I had no choice but to draw upon all of the lessons learned from the last six months in order to battle the bacteria that had spread from my urine into my blood stream.

My life- my world, was yet again, there in my blood.

I prayed that my rebuilt immune system would know what to do, would know how to fight, would know how to protect me from unwanted invaders.

Not only did she know what to do, but she fought with an alarming ferociousness that caused the bacteria to cower in fear and evacuate the premises.  My immune system was committed and determined to protect me- and that is exactly what she did.

The bacteria Serratia that was found in my urine, in my blood, and on my port, was swiftly eradicated.

On Monday afternoon, as I left the hospital for what I hoped would be the last time, I was unable to control the tears and overwhelming sense of gratitude that I felt to be alive.

The last 5 days were without a doubt the most difficult of my life. I would even venture to say that fighting off what could have been a fatal infection, was more trying than being diagnosed with Cancer.

I am now at home in my apartment and on the mend. I am doing my best to manage the pain, and once again I am learning to embrace patience.  In some ways, the pain has forced me to tiptoe back into the world as opposed to sprint. I cannot jump back into the life that I used to lead, or into the life that I hope to one day experience.  Instead, I have no choice but to slowly, methodically, and carefully reemerge.

As I slowly creep out of the shadows, I look forward to dancing with you in the sunshine.

Until then, you can find me tiptoeing.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Round Six- and then round Seven?

As most of you know by now- round six was filled with lots of surprises. Just as I was about to enter the real world, I contracted a few infections that forced me to confront fear and pain. As it turns Dr. Gordon and his team of angels rebuilt my immune system to operate and function much like a Pink Cadillac. Rebuilt and refurbished, my immune system which had only been functioning for a day, took down three infections like it was going out of style!  

What I thought would be my last visit to Hotel Prentice on May 10th- was my 2nd to last visit. This posting is a compilation of what went on during round 6 and round seven.

Inspired by Run Lola Run.
Kasey and I looking real tough.
Kasey fully pouting.
Last bag of Rituxan!
Last bag or R-Epoch. Biggie looks intoxicated.  Patti on the other hand is just a rock star.

Shosh and Scott having too much fun.
The dream team- with lipstick!!!!
Bribery by Pizza
Does this party hat accentuate my baldness?
Dance videos:  You set the Play List
Northwestern Oncology Doctors and Researchers Twist Out Cancer at Their Spring Fling!
Floor 16 Angels- Apparently En Vogue is still in style.
Kasey Passen- You have no shame.

Ann, my head angel. She may not dance but she can lift 201.5 lbs. That's normal!

Erica Karp and her entire extended family celebrate- good times. 

Phoebe Strole and Penny: This takes the Twist to a Whole New Level.

Joel Maslaton, A Montreal Fighter, Badass, Cancer Crusher.

Daniela Antelo breaks it down- not only on the floor but on a coffee table. This girl has serious moves!

Fabiola and her familia perform the Venezuelan Twist!
Becca Gruenspan and the Athena Conference Twist Out Cancer for a 7 Time Survivor!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Facing Death Twice.

On December 20, 2010, a phone call with my internist that ended with "you have Cancer" forced me for the first time to face my own mortality.

On May 20, 2011, 6 months and 6 rounds of chemotherapy later,  I received another call, this time from North Shore Hospital's Emergency Room Department, that would likewise force me to face death for a second time.

Earlier that morning, I woke up at 5:30 am, wiggled my toes, adjusted my shoulders, and started my ritualized deep breathing exercises that help me focus on the present moment and remind me that I am alive.  As I lay in my bed, smiling, I couldn't stop thinking about how excited I was to face the day, and more importantly to rejoin the world after living in isolation for 6 months. My immune system had clearly started to rebound, and I was getting ready to return to Northwestern Hospital for the last time to give blood and assess my levels.

I showered, returned to my bedroom and started to pack. Moments later I was overcome by shooting pains that originated in my abdomen and radiated down through the tips of my toes. The pain was so excruciating that I fell to the ground. I moved into fetal position hoping that this would provide momentary comfort. To no avail I couldn't get comfortable. I then tried to gradually stand up, only to realize that my situation was progressively worsening.

I screamed out to my parents, who quickly tried to figure out ways to ease my pain. As the pain increased, my voice noticeably quieted. We all came to the conclusion that not only was I unable to drive myself to Northwestern Hospital, but that my parents were not going to be able to get me there fast enough.

My father called an ambulance, and within minutes I was strapped to a gurney with tears streaming down my face. I have no idea what transpired from when I was laid out on a stretcher to when I was brought into the emergency room.  The only memory I have is that I realized the ambulance driver was the same police officer  that politely called my father during my high school graduation to tell him that I would need to be escorted home because they found a flask of alcohol taped to my leg.

Realizing the connection, I swallowed my pride, and quickly got back to concentrating on managing my pain.

Without knowing it, I had shown up for my final test.

What if's- off the charts.

I had no choice but to draw upon lessons gleaned from the last  six months in order to get through the next three days.

Once I was admitted to North Shore Hospital's ER, they hooked me up to Dilaudid which is a stronger derivative of morphine. This somewhat helped manage my pain, but by no means eradicated the abdominal cramping and burning.

After a CT scan, and blood and urine tests, the doctors diagnosed me with a mild Urinary Tract Infection which they believed I contracted while I was immunosuppressed after my final round of Chemoetherapy.  UTI's are very common, particularly with women during Chemotherapy. I was eventually sent me home with an anti-biotic, and told me to drink lots of fluids.

Upon returning home, I told my parents that I believed I had been misdiagnosed and that there was something more serious going on. 5 hours later, while I was on the phone with my dear friend Dr. Lindsay Freud, I received a call from Evanston Hospital stating that I had Gram Negative Bacteria Rods in my blood and that I needed to be urgently readmitted.  I asked if I could come back in the morning and they told me that minutes mattered.

In a panic, I called my oncologist and we both agreed that I should head back to Northwestern Hospital.  He told me that he believed I had enough time to head downtown but that I needed to be seen right away.

I spoke with Lindsay who similarly echoed the other doctors sentiments. In all three doctors voices, it was clear that this was serious- very serious.

I started to panic. I could feel my body physically tightening up and mentally shutting down. I was out of focus and moving in slow motion.  I walked over to the full length mirror in my bedroom, and stared deeply into my reflection. I no longer saw a victim, a patient, a shadow of my former self. Instead, I saw a warrior, a badass, a Cancer survivor who was unwilling to let another invader ravage my body.

As I stared deeper and deeper, I started talking to myself out-loud. " Jenna, you've got this.  You are going to Kill this in the Butt. You are going to knock the shit out of this bacteria and you are going to start now."

I turned to my Mom who was surprisingly very calm, and I said, "We've got this." She nodded and we quickly packed our bags.

I turned to my Dad, and held him for an extended period of time. Fighting back tears I looked at him, and hoped that this would not be the last time we would embrace.

Within 30 minutes we arrived at the hospital. After causing a great scene at intake, we were eventually escorted into an isolated room away from the other patients. I was quickly admitted and soon thereafter seen by a team of doctors.  I was hooked up to fluid, and started recieving intravenous anti-biotics which quickly attacked the bacteria in my blood.

The doctors at Northwestern believed that in addition to having bacteria in my blood, my port (affectionately known as my trip-nip or port authority) was infected. They decided to take more blood from different locations which they eventually cultured.

After 8 hours in the ER, I was admitted back to floor 16 at Hotel Prentice. I was greeted by Meghan, one of the nurses whom has affectionately become one of my lead dancers. It was 6:00 am and my Mom and I together watched the sunrise, desperately trying to take our minds off of the fear, the uncertainty, and the fact that we were back on the floor that we swore we would never return to.

We finally were able to sleep a few hours, and in that time, learned more about the invaders that had entered my blood stream, my urine, my body. After a chest x-ray, CT Scan, Ultra Sound, and more blood work and urine samples, my doctors all believe that I have a severe UTI that was contracted while I was immuno-suppressed. This bacteria moved from my urine into my blood and started to spread. My port, likewise was infected and needed to be surgically removed.

Yesterday, as I continued to receive anti-biotics intravenously, I had my port removed while I was awake. As they cut me open, and released me from this contaminate, I decided to sing Bridge Over Troubled Water on the top of my lungs. I couldn't stomach the sound of being cut open, so instead I embraced one of Paul's Simon's greatest hits, and sang as if it were my very last performance.

Today, I woke up with more abdominal pain, but with the knowledge that my infections are starting to clear up. I am told that I must stay here until my pain subsides, and there is no longer blood in my urine.

It has been an emotionally draining few days.
Over the past 36 hours :
I learned what it feels like to be so close to the finish line but unable to actually cross it.
I learned what it feels like to repeatedly fall down, and still continue to get back up.
I learned that I love and appreciate my parents in a way that I didn't think was possible.
I learned that there is a fine line between vulnerability and strength.
I learned that my desire to live is stronger than my pain.
I learned that my mind is stronger than my body.
I learned that just because I faced death once, doesn't make facing it for the second time any easier.
I learned that I need to slowly tiptoe back into the world.

Until then- I will give my body what it needs, and fight with every last strength.