That’s D.J. Bennett’s Instgram handle. The 66 comes from his old high school football playing number. The tuff?
It speaks for itself.
D.J. is one of the 2019 Nosco Foundation recipients. I called him up to talk, and like many of the people struggling with some heavy burden and wind up connecting with the foundation, it just sort of happened.
But D.J. made one thing clear from the beginning. “You’re backing a truly good cause.” The appreciation and kindness in his voice was so thick you could touch it.
“I got connected to Nosco through my mother. She had heard about it and reached out to the Chamber of Commerce at Thousand Oaks, and Heather helped us get involved, and we were chosen to be recipients, which is more than cool. I’m forty and have cancer. I was diagnosed about four months ago. I have a beautiful family. My wife who’s my backbone, two young children, my daughter’s eight and my son’s six, and a stepson at TCU.
“We’re so proud of him. He’ got one year left but we got it together and did family week in Fort Worth this fall. It was tough making the trip but so worth it.”
So tough. So tuff. So #66tuff.
“I was having a problem with my foot, something that’s been going on for a couple a couple of years, a foot ulcer, and I’ve always had a history of staph related to the foot. One day I went to the hospital because there was a bad abscess, and they knew there was something wrong but couldn’t figure out what.
“They did so many different tests and were going to do a biopsy but it kept dragging on so I went to the ER and checked myself in. Three days later I learned that I had nodular melanoma, which is different from other melanomas because it begins on the inside with your lymph nodes. There’s no real site that would have warned me to get screened for cancer, no mole other abnormality like you often see with melanoma.”
D.J. paused here, and I got ready for him to talk about the chemo and treatment. But he didn’t. Instead he pointed to the thing that rarely if ever gets discussed until the problem lands on your doorstep: assembling the right people to treat a complex, aggressive disease.
“The fight starts in this country to get the team together to treat the illness. In this day and age with insurance and insurance groups it’s not an easy battle. I waited nine weeks and the tumor grew 18x due to the wait. Here I was, all I needed was to start treatment but I needed a specialist and incredibly my insurance fought back.
“They didn’t want to give me a specialist who could save my life.”
This sank in, and he continued.
“I called the insurance commission board and only then, through their intervention, did I find a specialist from City of Hope. It’s been a rough ride, and when I make it through this I will be doing some sort of advocacy to try and get the word out there that we have a broken system and we absolutely have to do something about it.
“I’m blessed and am healthy, with a family. I can’t imagine being some lady who’s 60, alone, and trying to get treatment. It’s just a tragedy. I have to believe I’ll be here no matter what.”
We then talked about the Nosco Foundation.
“It is such a great function they perform. Anybody that starts any type of foundation to help another person get through a hard time or even raise a little bit of money in any way to even pay one bill relieves a little bit of stress for the family. That is a wonderful thing, it’s admirable, and I’m happy to be part of it.”
I asked D.J. what the biggest surprise had been since his diagnosis. “The biggest surprise has been that it’s so hard to get around. I’ve been so independent all my life, and now have to ask people to do things for me.
“The most gratifying thing has been all the love and prayers and support. We just had a small fundraiser put together by my mom, who is an amazing person, and to see all the people willing to come spend their hard earned money and just to be there. It was overwhelming. I’ve been living on that high since Saturday. I have good and bad days, but that was one of the best.”
I asked D.J. what he thought the future held, and what he envisioned five years hence. His answer was something we should all heed, because it is wisdom earned the hardest way of all.
“Five years from now doesn’t mean a lot. I just need to live day to day and fight day to day. Before the diagnosis I was more of a planner and wanted to see where we’re going, but now I don’t give a shit. I just want to be here to give my kids hugs and take my kids to school. The little things. Little things make up the big things but we’re conditioned to discount them. Don’t discount the little things.”
We talked about his children and how they’re dealing with it. “The kids are pretty young but I’ve had short talks with them that daddy’s a little sick, and they know daddy’s here for them and he’s fighting, and it is what it is. We try to be positive and let them know that daddy’s a strong guy and he’s going to get through it.”
Finally, I asked D.J. if he had anything he wanted to share with the people who, like me, are doing the Nosco Ride but who may not really know the effect the foundation has on the lives of the recipients.
“Before you get on your bike take a second and realize what you’re doing, that it’s for a cause, that it helps individuals who were selected in an immensely hard situation, it touches so many people and families and you are reaching out to someone you don’t even know and are affecting their lives. Thank you and it’s touching everyone.”
And he added this: “Being a recipient means so much to me. Thank you to the Nosco Foundation.”
Actually, D.J., it’s the other way around. Thank you. #66tuff.
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