Brandi L. Benson is a 36-year-old veteran, speaker, author and cancer advocate based in Miami, FL (from Novato, Calif.). Joining the military in hopes of playing soccer for her country, she ended up with her own battle. Fresh out of basic training and only three months stationed in Iraq, she was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, Ewing Sarcoma, at age 24. Walking away with one less muscle in her left leg, she triumphantly defied odds. Brandi has written magazine blogs for Conquer Magazine, Cancer Wellness Magazine, American Cancer Society and more sharing her story. She is spokesperson for Bristol Myers Squibb alongside ABC’s This is Us Sterling K. Brown, has signed a modeling contract with HOP Models & Talent Agency and is the author of The Enemy Inside Me, available on Amazon.
I want people to know that cancer is not an automatic death sentence and that modern medicine is a lot better than it used to be.
Patrice: What makes a pretty woman who hustles?
Brandi: A pretty woman who hustles has a story about overcoming adversity and continuing to reach her goals. A pretty woman that hustles understands that the hustle will not always look inviting, and most times, it is very intimidating, but sticking to the course is what makes the hustle. Hustling is pushing forward with the mission even when you feel like you don’t have the right tools, and in that case, you make them.
Patrice: Your story is amazing and it’s very inspiring to others who face challenges with diseases in their life. For those who don’t know, what is Ewing Sarcoma?
Brandi: Ewing Sarcoma is a very rare and aggressive cancer. About 1,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed a year. Since this cancer is so aggressive and has a very high probability of it manifesting somewhere else in the body, it is treated very aggressively with a lot of chemotherapy. I was treated with 17 cycles of chemo in less than a year. This cancer is a childhood cancer and is typically found in young, Caucasian boys. You will find this cancer attacking the limbs (arms and legs) of the body, lungs, brain and spinal cord.
Patrice: When were you diagnosed with this rare form of cancer?
Brandi: I was diagnosed with Ewing Sarcoma in 2009 while I was deployed in Iraq. I ended up leaving the war (fighting for my country) to return home to defeat an enemy inside me – cancer. I was not prepared to fight a battle from within myself. You don’t go to school and learn how to fight a terminal illness. I was in a state of shock and denial for a while. There is something to be said about facing your mortality.
Patrice: You walked away with only one less muscle in your leg. You are definitely blessed! I was reading that people die from this rare form of cancer. How has becoming a survivor changed your life?
Brandi: Cancer has saved me and truly made every day magical. I know it sounds strange and a bit unreal, but cancer has changed the person I am from the inside out. I appreciate the small things in life, like being able to walk and have both legs, but I am now a pillar in the Sarcoma cancer community. I can give hope, and hope is so healing. I can touch people worlds away with my story. I want people to know that cancer is not an automatic death sentence. We are so much stronger than we know. Cancer has made my life much more purposeful. I am no longer just living in a world, but I am adding value now. I am not sure if this would be the case if I did not experience cancer.
Going through cancer has taught me about mental strength and mental health. These are both so important when you’re going through or have survived a traumatic event.
Patrice: So tell us more about your experience in Iraq on the battlefield. What branch of service did you serve?
Brandi: I was in the U.S. Army. I loved being in the military and had dreams of retiring as an officer someday. I enjoyed the physical aspect of pushing yourself to the limit. When I got deployed to Iraq, I had just graduated basic training and Advanced Individual Training (AIT). I was at my first real duty station for one month and nine days before I was shipped out to fight for my country. I felt unprepared and not ready for the real Army.
Nonetheless, I was deployed to Al Diwaniyah, which is 98 miles south of Baghdad. I was petrified. Iraq was very scary to me. I was only 24 years old and in the middle of a war zone. Months later, I was fighting a different battle; one that required me to swap out my M16 and grenades for vomit bags and chemotherapy.
Patrice: What type of experience did you have over there?
Brandi: Being deployed is very similar to what you see in the movies. The energy is very high from the unknown. Everyone is on their toes, in a sense. I noticed that once it became winter, November to December timeframe, the activity picked up tremendously and shortly after that, I discovered a strange lump in my left leg in January 2009.
January 10th is the exact day I found the lump in my left leg (groin area). I waited a week before I went to the medic station. I was put on a helicopter and never returned. That was the beginning of the end for me. Life was never the same.
Patrice: How long have you been a model?
Brandi: I got signed to Gamut Management in 2020. It is a modeling agency that contracts models/talent that have a disability. I just did a show with them. I modeled Tommy Hilfiger. It was such a fantastic time, truly magical. I hope to do more shows, campaigns and commercials with Tommy Hilfiger shortly. I am also the brand ambassador for the Sarcoma Alliance. The Sarcoma Alliance is a nonprofit organization that focuses on Sarcoma cancer. We spread awareness, education and programs for cancer patients and their caregivers.
Patrice: Tell us more about the Adaptive Runway Show.
Brandi: The event was on March 9, 2021 and was held outdoors. The event was all about adaptive wear for those with disabilities. I had my entire adductor muscle removed due to cancer and, as we know, muscle does not grow back. So, I have one massive muscle missing from my left leg, which has left me disabled.
Runway of Dreams teamed up with Tommy Hilfiger in 2016 and they were the first clothing brand to cater to the disabled community. The event was nothing less than epic. I had a blast.
Patrice: As a spokesperson for Bristol Myers Squibb, what topics do you address to the community?
Brandi: I did a social media campaign with them last year in 2020 called Survivorship Today. This initiative aims to share stories of people across the country who have been affected by cancer and advance our collective understanding of what it’s like to live with the disease today.
Patrice: I see that you have written a book called “The Enemy Inside Me.” What do you want the readers to take away from the book?
Brandi: I want the world to know that cancer is not an automatic death sentence and that modern medicine is a lot better than it used to be. I also want them to know that life can still be amazing and extraordinary as a survivor.
Patrice: What do you want people to know when it comes to Ewing Sarcoma?
Brandi: Early detection is critical. Cancer can be found anywhere in the body, yes, the arms and legs. Before having Sarcoma, I never knew that you could get cancer anywhere else in the body besides your brain, lungs, stomach, liver or breast. I think it is time to speak up about this cancer and let the world know it exists. If you have a lump that is larger than a golf ball, please visit your doctor.
Patrice: Any empowering advice for people who are dealing with a rare form of a disease?
Brandi: Yes, we are so much stronger than we know. We all have an elite version of ourselves and it is up to us to discover it.
Patrice: What motivates you?
Brandi: There are so many things that motivate me. I find inspiration in so many forms, but reaching a goal of mine fuels me to keep going higher and to push for more. I believe we are limitless beings and with that mindset I try to shoot for the stars. Right now, a goal is to work with Tommy Hilfiger personally and make Sarcoma cancer a household name like breast cancer.
Patrice: Are you currently working on any new projects for the year?
Brandi: I am currently working on spreading awareness about Sarcoma cancer with the Sarcoma Alliance.
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