If you were on the wrong side of the ice, you probably remember him well and had the bruises to prove it. He didn't touch ice until he was 13, but made up ground quickly. Sam taught himself to skate and earned his spot on travel teams in Dallas and, upon graduation, was snagged to play Juniors with the Bay State Breakers in Massachusetts. After two seasons, Sam was courted by Stony Brook and went on to play four seasons with the Seawolves. He earned a reputation both for his ferocity and his sportsmanship, eventually Captaining the Seawolves and closing out his senior season being named to the 2015 National University Team and got the rep the USofA in Granada, Spain.
For the past two years, Sam battled through some of the hardest hits life can throw. Two weeks into starting law school in Wisconsin, raging elbow pain revealed aggressive leukemia and at 24, Sam underwent a year of treatment. His body was burned and poisoned through three rounds of chemo, countless radiation sessions, and two rounds rounds of immunotherapy before embarking on one of medicine's toughest tests- a stem cell transplant.
He faced almost every single day with a smile and a bad joke. And he came out swinging- re-enrolling in law school at Baylor while volunteering with LiveStrong AND training for the Ironman in Austin this fall to raise money for other families battling cancer.
It takes a lot to slow Sam down- just ask anyone who’s skated toward him- but last week he reached a roadblock.
Leukemia has returned, and while we are extremely grateful for the treatment available to him at MD Anderson, it is hitting hard this time. Sam began another intensive treatment program and the rest of his life has had to hold. While his physical health is most important, it’s undeniable that this one hurts emotionally, mentally and financially. He’s had to relocate from Austin to Houston and Cancer has a habit of making timelines and logiostics uncertain.
Given his new battle, it's unclear how long Sam will be unable to work and moving, housing and living expenses so quickly start to add up. We've all been happy to chip in whenever and however we can, but we really want finances to be the absolute last thing Sam has to think about so that all of his energy can stay focused where it needs to be- fighting the hell out of cancer. So many of you have graciously asked how you can help and this is one huge part of the battle we can all pitch in to fight.
You can probably imagine that Sam would never ask for help and throughout his life has insisted on always being one to give anything he could, so we've established this page to try and ease as much of his burden as we possibly can.
If you have a moment and are so inclined, here are three ways you can help:
-If you are able, please consider donating. All funds will go towards immediate expenses associated with Sam’s treatment plan in Houston and would be so deeply appreciated. We will keep this page updated with where funds are allocated and are happy to answer any questions directly. We know it seems like a lot, but every single little bit helps.
-Please consider sharing a note of encouragement with Sam. We love hearing about ways he has touched those around him and I am certain hearing from you keeps his spirits high. We cannot underestimate the power of your prayers, your thoughts and your words. If something funny happens, you hear a good joke or listen to a great song- pass it along to him. Those little pick-me-ups make long days of treatment go by quicker.
-Finally, do something. Life is hard sometimes and bad things happen. Enjoy this moment in your life and savor it and make something of it. Be kind and Don’t quit. Take a risk and tag us when you do #puckleukemia We love seeing what good comes from Sam's example and getting the chance to share his message and his outlook and his story far and wide.
Thank you so much for reading and for your support.
Angie Brewster Benson
Sam's big sister
I was able to take both of these photos of my baby brother. The photo on the right is taken from his hospital room during that first round of chemo. The photo on the left is Sam, as he paced around our parents' house. Mere seconds before, he had answered a call from the doctor, expecting to hear about lyme disease. It was the first time he'd been told he may have cancer. His whole world changed in this picture. Help us help him set it back on track.
Some things are best said by Sam himself. Below are some of Sam's own words, taken from his social media these past two years. He has worked so hard to maintain his positivity, to dig deep for meaning in his pain and to spread joy and wisdom to those around him. I hope you find some inspiration from him!
If you don't already follow him, I highly recommend it for a regular dose of depth and joy.
September 13, 2017
If you have a (few) minute(s)…
I would first like to thank each of you for the birthday wishes. But given what those wishes meant two years ago, I feel like maybe I owe you something a little more. So I’d like to tell you a story. Forewarning, this may be difficult for some of you to read, but I assure you it will be much harder for me to write.
Not sure if many of you remember, but two years ago on my birthday, I was officially diagnosed with leukemia. I shared that with all of you and the inpouring of comments, messages, and love was, to this day, one of the greatest gifts I have ever received in my life. In the moment when my life was to be forever altered, all of you draped me in words of encouragement, reflection, and compassion. To you, it was just another Facebook comment. Well let me show you what the “little comment” has meant to me.
At the beginning of my battle, I did my best to keep you all updated. However, as time went on I posted much less frequently, and at six months I stopped. Six months after the commencement of my first intense regimen, which included chemo 4 times a week, I was notified that I had relapsed. The chemotherapy was no longer working, and we had to try something new.
In those first six months, the self I had known for twenty-four years had been destroyed. Sure, I was nauseous 95% of the time, some shapeless flesh replaced the body I had built over the entirety of my life, and my mind enjoyed the relentless flow of scrambled consciousness known as “chemo brain.” That stuff I could get over, get past.
But every morning when I walked to the mirror and looked in, the face I saw trapped within the reflection was unrecognizable. It was never the face of the young man I had worked desperately to be. It lacked passion, enthusiasm, purpose. It was a sick person. I don’t know where he came from, but that image trapped in the mirror was never Me.
Fast-forward a bit. I have been on immunotherapy for about 4 months. Immunotherapy for those of you that don’t know is the miracle drug you may have been hearing about with cancer. It uses a two-part molecule that both identifies and attaches itself to cancer cells, and then calls in the T-Cells of your immune system to take them out; All this without a trace of side effects. It’s brilliant, effective, and a “miracle”. I had “enjoyed” this treatment for a few months when I was called into the doctor’s office on July 15th, 2016.
The miracle drug was not a miracle for me. Nearly 80% of my bone marrow had returned to leukemia cells. Relapse #2.
Enter what is known as a “Salvage Regimen.” The goal of the regimen is to get a patient as close to remission as possible before being rushed to transplant. I affectionately refer to this plan as, “We’re going to put you in the hospital and hit you with everything we got. I suggest you hold onto something.”
However, holding on becomes a lot more difficult when you and Pain are in constant competition. The moment I upped my tolerance threshold, Pain found a new benchmark to strive towards. My body shook. Vomiting perhaps did not subside the pain but offered a welcome distraction. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t eat. For the worst four days, I didn’t sleep. My mind could never escape beyond enduring the anguish of each instant.
Eventually, the pain subsided…just in time for my bone marrow transplant. I won’t waste time going into detail, but there is a reason it is referred to as the “Mother of all Transplants.” In short, if you can, I would avoid taking up bone marrow/stem cell transplant as a potential hobby. Never been to hell, but there were moments where I imagined it would be a nice vacation from that hospital bed.
So these were the parts you never heard about. Now let me share the hard stuff, and explain to how your “little comments” carry unbelievable importance.
The straight of it is I struggle violently with my present self. I ask that you please empathize with me. Imagine the Self that you had worked hard for over twenty-four years was taken from you. Athletes, Dancers, Musicians, Artists; imagine your physical capabilities from which you draw so much confidence were destroyed. You can no longer run. You can no longer pirouette. You can no longer sing or trace a keyboard. You can no longer work a paintbrush with precision and expression. You can no longer do the Thing that you derived much of your identity from.
Now imagine that your physical appearance becomes warped and disfigured. You have no hair. You have no eyelashes or eyebrows. Medicine that you have to take causes your face to swell and asymmetrically inflame. Muscle definition? Out the window. Skin? Blotchy and uneven.
You have lost a significant piece of your identity, and no longer appear the way you have your entire life; All that taken without any fault of your own.
Now imagine walking into a room of 100 strangers and introducing yourself to each one.
This is my constant scenario. Every hand I shake, every acquaintance I make, every relationship I begin now knows me only as I am now. No, I don’t owe them an explanation, and no, they obviously don’t know that anything is wrong with me. But to this day, I am still not that man in the reflection. These people are meeting someone else, someone different.
Let me take you a step deeper.
I struggle seeing old photos of myself. But not for the reason you may think. Sure, I may make a comment about wishing I was still that built or still had that hair (that’s what I really care about). However, when I see pictures of my old self, I always drift to a world where my present self is able to stand in front of my past self at a party, a beach, wherever. I play this visual over and over in my mind all the time, and each and every time I desperately try to fight back tears from racing down my face.
Because all I want to do is give him one, big goddamn hug.
I want him to know what’s ahead. I want him to know that he is going to be “ok.” I want him to know how bad it’s going to hurt. I want him to know the hell he is going to endure. I want him to know all of it. But most of all, I want him to know that he’s loved and when that earth-shattering wave does make its way to crush his world, so many people will be there to arm him with a faith and belief like he’s never felt.
But I just want to give him a goddamn hug.
He’s already aware of how lucky he is. He already knows how much he loves all the people in his life. And he’s already extremely grateful for all he has in this world.
But he won’t know how much,
Until all of you answer his desperate declaration.
Through every stage I have written about, your words on that initial post on my birthday two years ago have been my saving grace. After each relapse. After each bone marrow biopsy. After transplant. After my move to Austin. And even on my dark days today. Whenever I get tired of enduring this world as this new self, your words remind me of who I truly am. Each comment, message, or post stemmed from a time before all the nonsense. Memories and encouragement arose from a time before a disease fancied me its punching bag. It was what you all remembered about me in one way or another. Needless to say, I don’t get a chance to revisit those moments very often these days, but when I am able to, it’s soul-saving.
You all have no possible idea the impact your words that day have had on my life for the past two years. Because of you taking that time to leave a “little comment”, you have given me a reason, a purpose, to remain positive and trudge forward. When agony allowed me to barely open my eyes, those “little comments” gave purpose to the suffering. If someone is fighting for themselves, giving up is pretty easy. But when someone is fighting for all the people that care about him and love him, giving up is essentially not an option.
That was the gift you gave me. That was the impact of your “little comment.”
And they will continue to have an impact.
Now that we are on the other side, that incredible gift you all have given me has powerfully manifested itself as a newfound purpose and responsibility for me to show that your words, love, and belief were not misplaced. Thanks to you (and science/doctors/medicine, I guess), I get to spend an entire lifetime proving to you that your words were worth it. To be fair, there’s not a shot in the world that I’ll be perfect or even relatively close, but I do promise to do my best every day to make something of this second chance.
Please never forget the impact your words can have. Even a “little comment” can go a long way. Hell! You may just help out a fellow knucklehead.
Also, I have to give my old self a few props…
“I may be alone in the fight, but this shit is going to be a lot more fun with the cheering section I've got on my side!” – post September 25th, 2015
Kid probably didn’t know how right he’d be haha
Anyways, thank you all for the birthday wishes.
Always have a drink for me when you’re with loved ones.
“Thank you” will never be enough.
Love y’all more than you know.
p.s. I didn't have any good pictures, so I figured I'd post a picture of Sarge since that's why 90% of you are here anyway
p.p.s. I'm also doing Ironman Austin to raise funds for the Flatwater Foundation. If you have any interest in potentially donating or just spreading the word, the site is https://give.classy.org/brew
August 29, 2017
(one year post transplant)
One year ago today, I received a second chance at life. Before that day, I struggled violently with the concept that my time here was coming to an end. But my struggle had nothing to do with idea of me being gone. My struggle had to do with the fact that I would be leaving all of you. That was hardest. I didn't want to leave all of you. Selfishly, I love being surrounded by all of you too much to imagine heaven being anything better than what I've been given here on this planet. I thank God that he was merciful enough to grant me this second chance, to leave me here with every one of you, to live in MY heaven surrounded by the most incredible people this world has to offer. Love y'all always. -Sam #EarthlyAngels #StemCellTransplant #ForeverIndebted
August 20, 2016
(week before transplant)
No matter your battle, no matter your struggle, #DontQuit. And in that moment you feel you're all alone in your fight, please remember that wherever you are and whatever you're going through, I promise I'm cheering you on with everything in me and there are people all over doing the same. #Scratch #Claw #FightLikeHell #ButDontYouQuit
March 14, 2016
(just before starting immunotherapy)
I'd like to take a quick moment to thank Chris Garofalo and the Stony Brook Men's Ice Hockey Team for presenting me with this jersey before their first game at the ACHA D1 National Tournament. The whole team and the community surrounding the university have continued to show me more love and support than I could ever effectively express my true gratitude for.
I also have received a few messages asking for an update on how things are going on my end. For the past 6 months and due to my good health/young age, I have been under one of the most complex and intense chemotherapy regiments there is in cancer care. It's beat the hell out of me, but all things considered, my body appeared to be responding well. At the time of receiving this jersey, I had just completed the third of four intense regiments, nearing the home-stretch and getting back to who I had been before this all started.
My doctor had scheduled a bone-marrow biopsy in between the two regiments to confirm that I was still in remission and so we could move forward.
Well after six months of chemotherapy, over 30 infusion treatments, 4 IT treatments (a procedure that injects chemo directly into your spinal fluid), and enduring what could be affectionately coined as "my own little slice of hell", I received confirmation that I have officially relapsed...
And yes, this one hurts a little more than the first time.
With that being said, I've tried my best to spin these posts to reveal the positive aspects to be thankful for while going through all of this, but this time I am admittedly hard-pressed to see the silver lining here haha But here's my attempt:
Now that I will be shifting to an immunotherapy regiment, away from chemotherapy, I may be getting my appetite back so I have a few requests:
To all my friends back in Texas, if you get the chance, please go get yourself a Honey-Buttered Chicken Biscuit from Whataburger!
To all my friends back in Boston, if you get the chance, please go get yourself a Buffalo Chicken Strip Sandwich from Grumpy White's Pub in Quincy!
To all my friends in New York, if you get the chance, please go get yourself an L.A. Burger from Bobby's Burger Palace (or anything from Cabo Fresh will also due)
And to everyone everywhere, if you get the chance to be around people you love and really care about, buy a round of drinks for each of them for me. I don't know what the next phase of my life is going to be like, but, if nothing else (and via food and drink), I'd like to think I helped all of you smile at least one more time.
Hell, send me a couple of your tabs so I can really feel like my old self for a bit haha
Thank you all for your love and support and God Bless!
October 16, 2015
(officially in first remission)
I imagine you’d be hard-pressed to find another individual that considers the facing of his own mortality at 24 as a blessing, but I do. Trying to wrap your mind around the idea that one minute you can be here planning for your future and then the next, upon one complication, just being gone is magnificently profound and, honestly, truly ungraspable.
However, what it does leave you with is two choices: either focus on the negative things that have clouded what was formerly your leisurely cruise through life or make the choice to find the patches of sun peaking through the clouds and post up for some prime rays and work on your tan by focusing on the positive things in your life, especially the new things that your new situation has offered you.
It would be easy for me to focus on the fact that I have a life-threatening disease.
It would be easy for me to get upset with every strand of hair that falls onto the ground.
It would be easy for me to be furious that my body that I built over 24 years of being an athlete has been zapped from me over just a month and a half.
It would be easy for me to break down knowing that I will probably never be able to have kids.
All these things have the potential to steal my focus, and understandably so.
But how miserable would that be?!
Why think like that when I have hundreds of messages from amazing friends, family, and others reminding me of childhood shenanigans, drunk nights, probably-unnecessary dance moves, heart-to-hearts, hockey fights, painful lectures, or fond memories of that “one time we hung out”? All these stories reminding me how many people I have on my side, and how many people were willing to take the time to make sure I knew support was never going to be an issue. You all made it almost impossible to focus on any negatives because I was so blown away by your positive messages; And for that I am eternally grateful.
Without my diagnosis, I would have never been given the opportunity to truly appreciate the compassion in all of you; and I consider that a Blessing.
Similarly, with the fact that at any point I could cease to exist, I choose to focus and smile at the things I used to take for granted. Spending time with my folks, FaceTiming with friends, kissing my girlfriend. Hell, I got emotional about a breeze on my face the day I got out of the hospital! (Soft, I’m aware haha) But these are the things I continue to focus on, and I can’t but help smile because, at the end of every day, I realize that no matter what happens to me, I’m a damn lucky guy. I didn’t earn it. But for whatever reason, Life’s been good to me and to most of us if we take the time to really look at all we have.
I know this all seems obvious, but as you walk through the day today, pay attention to the things that you tend to focus on. How often are you engulfed in thoughts about things that cause you stress or make you unhappy? How often do you waste energy gossiping or speaking negatively about something or someone who isn’t worth wasting that time chatting about? Or, possibly, who could benefit from you offering a kind word? And how many times do you forget to be thankful for the loved ones around you, and that they’re ACTUALLY able to still be there with you?
There are blessings that stem from every situation. Every hardship. Every loss.
Our job is to identify them, appreciate them, focus on them, and then smile because of them.
I challenge you to adopt a mentality focused on the blessings and positive things around you, and I promise you’re going to find yourself going through your day smiling a little more often at things you used to forget to appreciate. (All without having to undergo Chemo treatment!)
OH! And I have been told that I AM OFFICIALLY IN REMISSION!
September 23, 2015
(fifth round of chemo)
So, today marks my fifth round of chemo, and (not trying to be annoying) I really wanted to take the time and thank every one of you.
You guys are simply amazing! The support and outreach I've received from all of you has been nothing short of overwhelming and inspiring. Perhaps given my situation, I am better able to see and feel the power behind each of your kind words, but please take my word for it:
Your words, no matter who you are, how relevant you've been in my life as of late, no matter how we know each other (or "if" we even know each other!) have carried more weight and value than any of you could ever know.
I've done my best to respond to everyone, but I really haven't been able to keep up all that well. So this post is the best I have for now, and this is my message for all of you:
Knowing now how it feels to be embraced and uplifted by people from all walks of life during what could be considered my "darkest hour", I cannot express enough how important it is to continue sharing and extending that love with those in need. I know society tends to tease earnestness, passion, and sincerity. But for those who need it, I beg you put aside your fear of being marked a "hardo". Your words, cheesy, cliché, or otherwise, help to build a mountain of faith that offers immeasurable leverage when times become hard, and, a lot of times, that leverage is all it takes to keep fighting.
Your words/prayers/wishes are invaluable.
One of the first nights I was in the hospital, I wrote down a quote:
"Fighting cancer may be as close as one gets to feeling like a gladiator in the Coliseum. Family and loved ones can stand and cheer you on, but ultimately you're the only one actually in the fight for your life."
That was before you all started to reach out to me, and I gotta say one thing.
I may be alone in the fight, but this shit is going to be a lot more fun with the cheering section I've got on my side!
I love y'all and thanks again!
These are some snaps from Sam's first weeks in the hospital. They've never been shared before, but I think it's important to make it clear that his cancer is not always pretty and hospitals are not always easy. With humor and positivity, Sam has always made the most of it, but at times, it's ugly and it's hard.
September 10, 2015
This is ONE DAY after Sam's 24th birthday and ONE DAY after ALL diagnosis.
This is the attitude that best exemplifies my baby brother. On his worst of days, in his scariest of moments, his desire was to share hope and wisdom with anyone he could.
Thank you everybody for the birthday wishes!
I'd also like to share with you guys something that I hope act as a wake-up call or just a quick reminder about just how important, fragile, and unpredictable life can truly be.
Yesterday, after three days in the hospital (and on my birthday), I was officially diagnosed with B-Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia.
I came home Friday evening to spend the long weekend with my family and took my girlfriend out to a movie that night. I entered the theater feeling completely fine, but, upon leaving, began having achy pains in both my elbows. The pain remained constant throughout the night, so I went to the doctor the next morning (Saturday) to have tests done, thinking my pain was due to some arthritic or autoimmune disease (like Lyme).
Up until this point, I had no other symptoms to recount.
Then Sunday morning, I received a call from the doctor notifying me that my test result had come back extremely abnormal, and that I needed to admitted to the hospital immediately.
Well now I'm here. And will be here as an in-patient for the next month. My chemotherapy treatment (the first installment which also took place yesterday; BEST BIRTHDAY EVER! ) will span three years, and, from what they tell me, drinking while undergoing chemo is frowned upon haha (we'll see)
I wanted to share this with all of you because most of you are in the same confusing/frustrating/crazy point in your life where priorities become jumbled, visions get blurred, and the chaos waiting for you upon entering into the real world perpetuates a daunting, endless road that apparently will someday lead us to where we're supposed to be.
I share in that confusion with you. I started law school a week ago. I thought I was on the right track in order to make sense of some of that chaos awaiting me, and in a matter of three days, the Big Man Upstairs made it pretty clear that I was not going down the road he apparently preferred.
My point in writing this was to try and offer a wake-up call to those of us that may be lost in the confusion or have been recently been stricken with a streak of pessimism (which is perfectly understandable given today's social state). We all make plans, but do not let the things most important in your life begin to diminish just because your world is spinning faster than ever. Use those things to ground you, make you sturdy, and act as your foundation.
Live life passionately, with vigor and drive, because your tomorrow may look nothing like what you had planned it to be.
Remind your loved ones that you do, in fact, love them.
And stop waiting for some sign before you become the person you want to be. You may not be given tomorrow to keep waiting.
I love y'all, and thanks again!
Thank you so very much for your support. Please let us know if we can answer any questions or help pass along any messages. We love you and we value you more than you can possibly know.
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