Where Do You Find Strength?

 

A mother should never have to look into the eyes of a doctor and hear those words, “Your daughter has cancer.” And then explain to her precious little girl why she must take medicine that makes her violently ill, or why she must get excruciatingly painful shot.

I’d heard these words and more, –and each time I hear this very touching story, it brings tears to my eyes. It is my hope that this extremely personal account will raise awareness, and leads to finding a cure for all cancer, making it a thing of the past, so no little girls or boys will ever have to go through what you are about to read. Here is what my daughter-in-law writes:

“Weeks before my seventh birthday, I started feeling extremely fatigued. I would literally sleep all day, every day. My parents were concerned, so my mom took me to my primary care doctor’s office for an appointment right before close. My mom came in to the doctor’s office saying that I needed to be seen right away because I was tired. The nurses thought she was being overprotective and a little nut since it was about eight at night and her six-year-old daughter was tired. Luckily, my doctor agreed to see me. He drew some blood and the results pointed to Mono. My doctor sent my blood off for further testing and we went home thinking that all was well. Fast forward a bit, and two weeks before my birthday my parents get a call from my doctor. The news wasn’t good. I didn’t have Mono, after all. I was then diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (ALL)

If you are to get Leukemia, ALL is the one to get. It has the best survival rates (over 90% for children) and, I believe, the treatment is less strenuous than other kinds. In other words, I was lucky to be diagnosed with ALL.

I underwent chemotherapy for about a year and a half. I like to say that I had an easy time with chemo, and I was fortunate enough that my Leukemia was fairly easy to treat. I was considered to be in remission after only a few weeks of chemotherapy, though the chemo did have to continue to ensure it didn’t come back. I have remained in remission since that time without any instance of relapse.

Even though I say that I had an easy time with chemo, the treatment is never easy. My body, and my brain, blocked a lot of what was happening so that I don’t remember most of it. Now I know that this is my body’s way of handling trauma. I remember very nasty medications, such as prednisone, that I couldn’t swallow without throwing up unless it was concealed in jello or fruit rollups. I also remember having to get a periodic shot in my leg. This particular shot needed to be injected directly into the bone of my leg. I also had to endure various surgeries and procedures that were not, for lack of a better term, fun.

Even though my treatment went fairly smooth and my Leukemia journey was “easy,” I still have some long-term side effects from the medication. I have tinnitus, a constant ringing in the ears, that started when I was in my pre-teen years. This is a common side effect of chemo. I also have significant acid reflux that was caused by the toxic chemo drugs I was taking. The acid reflux has scarred my esophagus, and the scarring has gotten so bad at some points that it was also scarred shut. I have had to have multiple esophageal dilations since I was about ten. The muscle tone in my ankles is weaker than is considered normal for a woman my age. Lastly, I am starting to develop peripheral neuropathy in my feet. Currently, the sides of each of my big toes are slowly starting to lose feeling. In addition to those, I believe I developed PTSD from my treatment and have significant memory gaps from that time in my life. There is also a chance I could experience infertility because of the treatments, though I don’t think the chances of that are very high.

I don’t tell you about all my current medical issues to gain sympathy. I think it’s important for people to understand that there can be devastating consequences to children going through such intense treatments and having to take such toxic medications.

I am currently 28 years old and as healthy as most women my age. I just started training to run my second half marathon with The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s (LLS) Team in Training (TNT). For TNT, we fundraise money that goes towards cancer research. This is important because it not only allows us to become that much closer to an actual cure, but it also helps develop more effective medication that have fewer long-term side effects. In the last two years, 40 new medications have been developed for the treatment of cancer, usually three or four are developed per year. Of the 40, 35 of them were funded directly through LLS. These treatments have even been effective in other cancers and diseases (breast cancer, MS, etc.)”

Some of my inspiration to write this up-lifting story about The Lion of Tupungato, came from my daughter-in-law. And so, with great anticipation of finding a cure for all cancers, a portion of the book proceeds will be donated to Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

The trinket I took from this experience, which I’ve used in my new book; when the trapdoor of life falls out from under you, and you’ve got nothing to stand on, where is the safely net, who is there with a helping hand to pull us back out. The Lion of Tupungato playfully beckons its readers to question, “Where do you find your strength?”

www.leannembenson.com

 

At First You Don’t Succeed…Take Out the Bloopers

Don’t you just love watching those extras, at the end of a DVD? Those edits, out-takes, and interviews, adding an extra dimension to the story. It amazes me how one small edit can change the way I feel about the movie.

Imagine the difficulties Charles Dickens or William Shakespeare experienced, holding a quill over a blank page, while a mound of crumpled papers accumulated on the floor. The fatigue, and tedious labors of handwriting the entire page over numerous times, it is inconceivable to me.

Computers have made everything much easier, including the writing process.  While creating “The Lion of Tupungato”, I made a multitude of changes. So many modifications, that if I were to have kept each word in this short children’s book, it might have made Atlas Shrugged, by Ayn Rand https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayn_Rand, appear brief.

It was a struggle for me, to stick to the standard story-line, yet write something that stood out from the masses. At one point I thought the below epilogue would be a good conclusion to my story about this lion that had been taken from a thirteen-year-old girl. However, the concept of stretching the story out for years, just didn’t seem to fit for children. I still wonder if I should have used it. What do you think?

It had been raining all night. Lush green leaves glistened with the first rays of sunshine. Birds were singing in its branches. Pansy sat in the shade, looking at the valley below. A gentle breeze, carrying a familiar smell, ruffled his mane. His eyes followed the scent to a sun hat rising over the hill. Under the brim, a face appeared. Sparkling brown eyes looked up at him as a graceful woman walked closer. Pansy gazed in amazement, not because people were seldom seen entering the park reserve, but rather, because this beautiful woman –was Isabel.

Pausing, to wipe the happy tears that blurred Isabel’s vision, she murmured, “Can this be true?” A slice of sun reached through the tree leaves and touched the lion’s mane with a tender glow. Taking a couple of fast strides toward him, she shouted, “Pansy!” louder than intended. Her feet raced uncontrollably as she crashed into her gentle giant.

Pansy snuggled next to Isabel and purred softly as she scratched his belly and rubbed his nose. Reaching around his fluffy mane like she had done a thousand times, Isabel squeezed him tightly. Only then was she sure, this wasn’t a dream. She had finally found him!

The trinket I took from this experience, that I may find useful when writing children’s stories: It’s not necessarily the smartest person that succeeds, but the one that doesn’t give up.

I’ll be sharing more outtakes next time.  Till then, keep reading with kids!

Read “The Lion of Tupungato”, with thirty illustrations.

Available now at: leannembenson.com

 

 

It’s Not Necessarily the “Hottest Item on the Market” that’s Treasured Most.

What are some gifts you’ve received this holiday season, and which is the most meaningful? Each of us has a different reason to savoring a specific item. “That favorite gift might be from someone special, something wanted for a very long time, or something that has earned a special meaning after realizing the huge effort made by the giver.”

The generosity in each person we met along our travels in Tanzania, humbled me. We were served food and drink, in homes which appeared to have little to give. Presenting us with gifts such as; chickens, woven grass bowls, carved wooden spoons, traditional wraps, songs and entertainment, brought feelings of unearned favor and appreciation.

Eighteen of us squeezed into a one room house with a dirt floor, the day before our big event. Shoulder to shoulder, we lined the four walls as we listened to this gentleman, rich with stories. A moment later, two small children lead one of their two goats in from the backyard. It took me a moment to realize what he was doing. Half of his family’s livestock was being given to us, in order to insure those traveling to join us, would not go hungry.

On the day of our wedding, my husband asked one of the clergymen from Tanzania, “How many people do you think are here?” To which the man replied, “I think, not less than three-thousand.”  Not until that very moment, did I realize, the importance of all those goats and chicken that had been gifted. We were overjoyed to find out, a lorry full of rice and beans had been sent to this tiny village, and that everyone had received a meal that day.

A man crippled from polio, shuffled on his hands to the Alter, and present us with his gift. He told us, through an interpreter, “I cannot work the fields. I cannot tend the livestock. I weave to earn my living. I am so honored that you shared your special day with our village, that I made this grass mat for you.”  It was very humbling, to except gifts from someone with a greater need than I had for their essential item.

The night was magical. We danced to the beat of the drums and jingling bells. Few words were able to penetrate through the language barriers. However, the smiles, laughter, and gleam in their eyes let me know, this was a special day for everyone!

The trinket I took from this experience, that I may find useful when writing children’s stories: “It’s not the size of the gift, but the quality of the giving.”

We Learn More, When Things Don’t Go the Way We’ve Planned

It’s the time of year, when we gather with others for merriment. There are many events throughout life when we revel in our accomplishments. How do you rejoice the holidays, usher in the new year, celebrate a graduation, a birthday, a heart stirring religious sermon, or a joining of two hearts at a wedding?

One of the most unusual and very special celebrations that I’ve experienced, was marrying my husband. No, he’s not the unusual part. It was that our wedding was anything but traditional. We celebrated on the top of a mountain in Tanzania. Originally, we were simply going to elope, but then we had a wacky idea to get married while we were over in Africa.

The trip was enlightening in many ways. There was a vast array of lifestyles and living conditions, from the metropolis of Dar Salam, to the city of Iringa, to the tiny village of Idunda, and even the wide-open wildlife reserve of Ruaha River Camp. Each place told of heart-wrenching times, dealing with corruption, such as gifts being held back for unaffordable fees, and the accounts of beautiful, kind and giving people, such as hospitals, and originations providing aid to the sick, well drillers bringing water to the thirsty, educators giving knowledge to the next generation, and more….

The highlight of this trip began, for me, when our group of eighteen packed into three Land Rovers and headed out to this tiny village called Idunda. High-up in the mountains, God, my best friend and I would become a team for life. The roads were treacherous as pointed out by our guide who stated, “Our people in the village are very appreciative, that you traveled so far and are risking your lives to visit them.” At which point, a fellow traveler replied, “Aren’t people in the other vehicles risking their lives as well?”

It amazed me to see the immense amount of goods they transported. Bicycles were loaded down with three to five crates. Carts and trailers, usually pulled by vehicles in my home town, were being pushed up steep hills, by one, two, or sometimes three strong men, of rather small stature. Along our journey, people young and old stood along the roadside. It appeared they had been waiting to greet us. Others set down their baskets, in order to wave.

As we drove into the village of Idunda a group of petite women appeared over the crest of the hill, balancing five-gallon buckets of water on their heads. Water was scarce on the top of the mountain and had to be carried in daily. There were no toilets, running water, or modern conveniences. However, the villagers seemed at peace in their way of living, cut off from news of the nuclear rights in Iran, and other controversies at that time. They were strong, hardworking, generous people with a great deal of love.

News of “wazungu’s” (white people) spread throughout the area, and our small ceremony grew…and it grew. And on the day of the wedding, we were shocked and amazed to learn that there were over three thousand guests standing on the crest of that mountain top. This union– of a man and a woman, was also seen as people from two different countries and cultures, speaking two different languages, coming together. A bond of love, rang-out in the bells and drums, on that starry night.

There was nothing that would have prepare me, for what I experienced in Africa. It wasn’t an easy, relaxing trip, on the other hand, it was very rewarding. The wonderful people we met along the way, taught me some of life’s most valuable lessons.

Here are a couple of trinkets I took from that experience, that I may find useful when writing children’s stories. Seldom can we prepare for what’s ahead in life. However, there’s a better chance you’ll learn more, when things don’t go the way you planned. Travel is one of the greatest teachers!

A Piece of Someone’s Soul

It is with great pride and apprehension, I’m announcing the release date for my new book in January 2019. As a new author, I’ve come to realize a book is not just words on a page. It is a piece of someone’s soul. “The Lion of Tupungato”, and its character’s, have been with me for years. Their joys are mine and their pain is real. Together we have grown and learned a great deal. Today, the illustrations and book cover are being scanned for final layout. I say good-bye to my friends. Once these words are bound, this book becomes the reader’s, and is no longer mine. It is up to you to bring these characters to life. They will become your friends, and people you scorn. The emotions I’m feeling are similar to when a child leaves home to start their own life. And so, with bitter sweet excitement, this story goes out into the world.

Young people are facing a great deal of stress.  I’ve been a little broken at times in my life. I have insecurities. Let’s face it -haven’t we all, at some time? Dedicating this book to the young and old going through some of life’s hardships is important, to me. It is my hope that this uplifting story provides inspiration, guidance and comfort to those fighting illnesses, loss of a loved one, bullying, inequality, or anything that make us feel less of a person.

The Lion of Tupungato is laced with thought provoking views of what defines a family. Sedona’s family is Argentinian. However, this story urges us all to be proud of our nationality and those influential people in our lives. A family can be many things. It might be your grandpa, like in the story, your adoptive or step-parent, a family of faith, the family dog or even a Lion, that was always there for you. –That’s your family! They’re the foundation to building your self-esteem and confidants.

The Lion of Tupungato” is an advanced reader book. However, I think kids are smarter than a lot of us give them credit for. Adults don’t want to be talked down to, and neither do young people. There are obstacles throughout life, we all face. Yes, this book has some big words. Young people need the opportunity to build confidence through a greater vocabulary. Reading a good book isn’t threatening or competitive–we can all win.

This book is filled with thirty playful illustrations, but more importantly, life lessons and family values, are not just told, rather they are seen through the eyes of a thirteen-year-old. Join Sedona, laugh and cry, as she gains a new understanding of love, loss, family and friends, in this unforgettable coming-of-age story “The Lion of Tupungato”.

Is It Your Chess Move?

I’m glad to be at a point in my life, where I can sit back and watch my children grow. It is important to know, they are becoming who they want to be, and not what they think I expect. Choosing their own paths in life, careers that interest them, and things that truly make them happy is paramount. If it had been my job, I might not have chosen the paths they are on -and wouldn’t that have been a shame, for everyone defines happiness differently.

We each have opportunities to make choices, however only for ourselves. We don’t’ get to move loved ones, as though they are chess pieces on our game board. I’ve made choices throughout my life. And those lessons that disappoint me the most, are the times when I was following other’s expectations, rather than following my heart. Isn’t it hard to swallow your pride and admit to making a mistake, and yet it’s even harder when you realize, you took a fool’s advice?

It is hard to know, if listening to your gut is right or if your heart is best. Having patience, taking the time to collect the data, as well as listening to other ideas, before making an educated decision is tough. As the third child of four, I didn’t often get to make my own choices. It wasn’t financially possible for my parents to provide a wide array of adventures. They did the best they could as parents, to which I’m truly grateful. Making decisions and taking ownership of mistakes as a child, was a luxury I often missed. On a brighter note, I am a better person for not always getting what I wanted. The most meaningful lesson to take from my childhood, might just be, to look at my “lack of decision making” as a gift. The skill of knowing when to let other lead. The restraint, to control my adult children. -And so, I sit back with that cliché, bowl of popcorn and watch the adventures of all childhood experiences with pleasure.

The first trinket that I’ve discovered from this experience, that may pop-up in my children’s stories, is that we all want to figure it out on our own. I’ve tried not to tell the story, rather I hope I’ve let the reader see the story through the eyes of a thirteen-year-old.

Children’s author and illustrator; creative, hardworking, artistic, and funny at times.

Drawing, sculpting, writing, singing, and dancing….  There are many ways, to express yourself. As an artist, I have colored with paint most of my life. As a new author, I spend more and more time, coloring with words. There is a great appreciation for art and an insatiable appetite to create deep within us all, in one form or another.  Every story, illustration, painting, sculpture, and even the cabin we’ve built, has been wrapped in layers upon layers of my blood, sweat, tears and love.

Many people have encouraged me to write and illustrate children’s stories. Have you ever heard the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child”? As an author birthing this new book, titled “The Lion of Tupungato”, it’s important for me to acknowledge and thank my village. Calumet Editions being the newest member of this village.

Years of funny stories, crazy country living, exciting events, and some rather unbelievable travel experiences have been written, only to be stuck in a computer folder labeled “never to be read”. These archives will be opened, for all to read. A few of those past experiences have already inspired a new manuscript along with illustrations. There will also be blogs about, “The Lion of Tupungato” children’s story.  Laugh, as you read about chapters and story endings that didn’t work. If it were not for the photos that accompany these blogs, you might not believe the stories about all the wacky projects, such as welding, hike down a three hundred foot riven, or rebuilding an old boat. There’s never a dull moment here on the bluff or abroad. Taking care of the land, traveling, helping others, fun tasks, creating art, illustrations, and writing, keeps things interesting around here. These blogs might not be long, on the other hand, they could be rather entertaining.

When learning to weld it’s a good idea not to start on something too important. “Okay, so I hold the torch on it, just long enough to get the metal to flow…Oops! Burn a hole right through the brace.”
“Believe it or not, the climb up is easier, than going down. ~ I hope there aren’t any rattle snakes in these rocks?”
After buying an old boat for a price that seems too good to be true, we learn it is…!