Comeback Kid

Walking in, you meet the familiar sights, sounds, and especially the smells of the doctor’s office.

You rush to the bathroom to vomit as your body recognizes the smells and senses what is about to happen–desperately fighting not to be poisoned.

But today is just another Friday: It is time for Chemotherapy.

This is only a glance into the life of first-year men’s lacrosse goalie Aaron Benz. The beginning of classes this fall semester marked the halfway point of Benz’s treatment, which would last another three months.

He attended his Templeton Honors College classes while still participating on the lacrosse team during its fall practices, earning himself the starting goalie position.

These accomplishments are not too surprising for those who know all the accolades that Benz has collected since he began playing lacrosse in fifth grade in Louisville, Ky.

As a high school freshman with less than a year of experience at the goalie position–having made the switch partway through his 8th grade year–Benz made his varsity lacrosse team at St. Xavier High School.

“We needed a goalie and I was messing around and made like three saves in a row with a middie-stick, so the next day I came out with a goalie stick,” Benz said.

Benz received first team all-state honors in his sophomore, junior and senior years. As a senior, he was named the state championship’s MVP.

In January 2009, Benz tried to donate blood but was turned down because of a low iron count. They originally thought that this pointed to a problem in his sweat glands, which were clogging. This would have meant that the size of his lymph nodes would decrease on their own over time.

Five days after winning the state championship and MVP honors, Benz had a lymph biopsy to discover he had Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. About a week later, he began chemotherapy.

It was not until later that Benz learned how much danger he had been in. His spleen had swollen dramatically, rendering it especially fragile. If he had been struck in the spleen by, for instance, a lacrosse ball, his spleen could have easily ruptured–with potentially fatal consequences.

One day earlier this school year after a lacrosse practice, Benz left for another treatment session. When he arrived, he began to vomit uncontrollably and was given medicine to calm him.

At the end of his treatment his mom drove him to her nearby hotel where he would continue to throw up. Benz described the moment as, “the sickest I’ve ever been.”

Throughout the day, every player on the team either texted or called him to check up and see how he was doing.

“It showed how deeply they cared,” Benz said. “At my sickest moment they were right there.”

It was soon discovered that the doctors had forgotten to give Benz one of the drugs he was supposed to receive. Thankfully, the mistake was easily remedied.

After the terrifying incident, Benz returned to his classes on Monday. By Wednesday he was back practicing with the team even though the drugs he was taking were dramatically weakening his lungs.

“It was always my goal not to let this control me,” Benz said. “I would control it.”

As he continues to try to be in control, Benz admits that without the chemotherapy, he would actually be physically stronger.

Fortunately, as a goalie, his physical strength may not be as important as his mental strength.

“On the field he’s a quiet leader,” senior captain Michael Hofmeister said. “Even as a freshman he leads by his actions.”

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