“I am a survivor and HOPEologist, and I will dedicate my life to helping others.”
Meet Ben. Husband. Father. Grandfather. Brother. Retired roofing contractor. HOPEologist.
A self-described “life-long, rough-and-tumble roofer,” Ben lived a healthy, active lifestyle, helping to build a successful business that provided a comfortable life for his family. Ben cherished time with his daughters, Rachel and Jamie. Life was good. But Ben says life takes you in different directions…sometimes ones you would never imagine.
It all started when Ben and his wife Judy were on vacation in sunny California and he felt a lump under his left arm. He didn’t think much of it at the time, just wondered what it was. He asked friends and family what they thought. Judy wasn’t taking any chances. She scheduled a doctor’s appointment right away and two days later they were back home in Pennsylvania, sitting in the doctor’s office.
That’s when Ben’s life changed. He heard the words, “You have advanced melanoma.”
“Shock – that’s what I remember feeling when I heard the diagnosis. I had been healthy all my life, worked outdoors for 40 years without any signs of skin damage. I played basketball three times a week. I was fifty-eight, but I felt ten years younger. Suddenly, the future I had envisioned for myself seemed to be slipping away. I was afraid I wouldn’t live to see my sixtieth birthday.”
Ben soon learned that the cancer was in both shoulders, his lungs, kidney and liver. It was also breaking his bones: right scapula, left clavicle, and three bones in his thoracic spine…All broken. He was weaker and sicker than he had ever imagined possible. But he wasn’t giving in. Together with Judy, his sisters Jackie and Marsha, and his daughters, Ben set his sights on beating melanoma.
“My wife and daughters were my rock throughout my treatment. I just remember how much strength they gave me in my darkest time. My sisters were a constant source of comfort.”
Today, Ben’s tumors are gone and he embraces a softer, sillier side volunteering as Dr. B Happy, from Bumper T Caring Clowns, a 501C3 non-profit organization. One day each week, he puts on his red nose, scrubs, lab coat and his silly socks, and visits his local hospital to bring hope and joy to people with cancer. He sees it as his new vocation because he remembers what it was like laying in a starkly lit hospital room while trying to keep the darkness at bay.
Ben now sees his future ahead. The unexpected years are a gift, allowing him to celebrate life and love with Judy and his daughters and treasure the time spent with his grandchildren, eight-year-old Sam, five-year-old Max and his beautiful, brand new baby grandson Holden. Later this year, he will hit another milestone he wasn’t sure he would ever see: he will walk his daughter Rachel down the aisle, the day after his sixty-second birthday.
Reflecting on the past few years, Ben says cancer has changed him.
“I look at life a lot differently now. I try not to sweat the small stuff and not worry about the things I can’t control. I’m so thankful to be alive – now I want to do whatever I can as a HOPEologist to bring hope to other people with cancer and help them see past the darkness to find joy and light.”
So, if you find yourself walking down the hospital hall and see a cheerful clown, it might be Ben as his alter ego, Dr. B Happy, making a difference – one smile at a time. Remember his words
...NEVER GIVE UP, NEVER GIVE IN.
Melanoma is the most serious form of skin cancer and is characterized by the uncontrolled growth of pigment-producing cells.
The risk of melanoma increases as people age. The average age of people when it is diagnosed is 63. But melanoma is not uncommon even among those younger than 30. In fact, it’s one of the most common cancers in young adults, especially young women.
Worldwide, the incidence of melanoma has been increasing over the past four decades in many populations.
In 2018, it's estimated there were more than 287,000 new melanoma cases worldwide and approximately 60,000 deaths.
In Europe, the five-year survival rate for advanced or metastatic melanoma (stage IV) is estimated to be 5 to 22 percent.