A Year of Growth: Ben Hense’s Battle with Lymphoma


Lexi Mariash, Editor-in-Chief

Just over a year and a couple of weeks ago, Gaither student Ben Hense would have his whole world flipped upside down.

Hense who had just turned 17 lived a busy life taking AP and honors courses during the day, attending three-hour percussion practices after school and working on homework late into hours of the night.

It wasn’t until March of last year when everything began to shut down did Hense’s life begin to slow down.

A Summer of Challenges

“When the pandemic hits over spring break everything begins to shut down, not taking anything seriously yet, not exercising not doing much, waking up doing school and relaxing and passing the time,” said Hense.

What seemed like normal downtime for a teenager who was just told their spring break was extended, became the first warning sign for something much more serious.

“I was feeling tired, I thought it was just like when you don’t do anything and you feel tired, but I was just tired all the time a constant fatigue, I was thinking okay it’s just because of how weird the world is right now,” said Hense, “I was looking really skinny and wasn’t exercising or eating healthy, definitely a red flag come June.”

At the start of the pandemic Hense was able to talk with his doctor multiple times, each time his symptoms were brushed off as allergies but Hense knew it was something more.

“I know it’s something bigger but don’t know the extent of how bad it is, I would get bloody noses, my left arm and chest began to hurt when I would breathe and google would say it was cardiac issues,” said Hense.

After many appointments, Hense is finally sent to the ER where his blood and tests ran normally. About to be sent on his way, the doctors decide to run an X-Ray just in case and compare it with one that had from months prior on file. With that, doctors knew something was wrong.

“Once they compared the X-Rays they saw the new one had a large foggy mass, after than they ran a biopsy, I got diagnosed and it was the worst week of my life,” said Hense, “within six days of them finding the tumor I was starting chemo, my whole life had gotten flipped upside within the week”

Adapting to Hospital Life

Doctors told Hense that the tumor had been developing for so long and grew so quickly that his body had essentially built to function around it. Hense described the feeling alike “wearing a heavy backpack for weeks, your body just gets used to it.”

To Hense, the first week in the hospital was the hardest.

“Everything was so foreign, but I ask a lot of questions, what this button does and what the doctors are doing,” said Hense, “It didn’t take me long to figure out what was going on and formulate a routine, I needed to figure out how to use the bathroom, when I walk around to exercise, when to take pills. I got the hang of that easily by the end of my second treatment, I really used my second treatment to better understand my surrounding.”

Chemo, while rough, was very effective for Hense. Doctors happily told him that his tumor had shrunk to half its initial size just two months into treatment. No matter how rough chemo got for Hense though, he always managed to remain positive.

“I always say this, is that Ben is a light, when you walk into a room he has a way of making other people feel included and at ease, even when you’re in the hospital bed,” said Hense’s Mother Jen Hense, “You would be in pain and someone would come in and you’d be putting them at ease and start talking and get them to not feel bad they had to do something painful to you.”

Hense described his time in the hospital as passing in the “blink of an eye.”

“I was done with one and another and another and another. Two out of six treatments done? I was a third way there. Three out of six treatments? Halfway done. Every time I went it was a milestone. While it went by fast, everything sucked, but it was quick,” said Hense.

After ending chemo mid-October, Hense had made it to remission come early December. Since October he had been in the hospital twice for cardiac issues. It was thought he would’ve needed more treatment but upon inspection, there was no cancerous tissue found and Hense was cleared.

A “Managable” Senior Year

Becoming immunocompromised at the start of a pandemic posed many challenges for Hense, he would not be able to in-person learning or enjoy spending in-person time with his classmates his senior year.

Luckily, e-learning had become a norm for half of Gaither students due to pandemic accommodations by e-learning Hense was able to continue attending classes whether he was at home or in the hospital.

Hense describes his senior year as “manageable” saying he couldn’t have done without the help from teachers William Helms, Carissa Deneca, Christain Nichols and his Guidance Counselor Vanessa Caban.

“Very understanding with treatment especially when I went in the hospital I was so sick and couldn’t pay attention in class and offered me extra help, made it easy to catch up on missed work and very understanding with emergency visits to the hospital just very nice wouldn’t have been done without Mrs. Caban who helped me create a time schedule that fit my day and helped with college applications,” said Hense.

Hense was also able to enjoy some senior activities even being votes First Runner Up Homecoming King on Gaither’s 2021 Starlight Homecoming Court.

It was great, hadn’t been to school in a very long time it was interesting to see how school functioned, definitely weird and surreal, didn’t know school had a scent until I came back like wow that’s Gaither scent, thank you for the people who voted for me will take first runner up any day of the week, appreciated all the kind words and good to see a lot of them I hadn’t seen them in over a year,” said Hense.

Hense will also be able to walk the stage at graduation come June, something he grateful for and wouldn’t have been able to do if it weren’t for the COVID vaccine, a shot he encourages everyone to get.

Looking Forward

“Yes it sucks, but a lot of it is how you perceive it, when I first got it I understood it was very rare I was unlucky and it sucks I will feel bad but I am able to make myself feel better I’m not just going to let myself feel horrible and awful for the next couple months and of everything I can to ease what I can the next couple months it seems simple to just think positively but it really helps. I laugh and joke with my doctors and nurses and it made such the difference it would’ve been so much worse if I didn’t you can look back and think it was the worst and I look back and think I got the hard part of my life early.”

Next year Hense will be attending Florida State University studying business in hopes of getting his MBA.

“I like helping people, I want to service to be a big aspect of my life, I’m hoping to become a health care administrator and push for better health care its very strong, I’ve seen the love I’ve received and I want to spread that to many people as possible, definitely made me grow mentally, I have grown and have a better understanding of the world around me, you know how fragile life is, go enjoy it, go live a little.”