Syracuse University student gears up for Saturday’s OttoTHON

Syracuse University student gears up for Saturday's OttoTHON

Doctors at Upstate diagnosed Andrew Benbenek with brain cancer when he was 8. Now, he's using his experience to give back to the hospital.
Published: November 2, 2018

At 8 years old, Andrew Benbenek couldn’t seem to shake his sickness. He was vomiting, getting headaches at the sight of light, and noticing a number of other issues. It had taken a physical toll on his health for over a month.

On Feb. 2, 2000, Benbenek was taken to Upstate University Hospital, now known as Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital, where he began his long journey of treatment. Medical professionals told him he had medulloblastoma, more commonly known as brain cancer.

“It was very dangerous that it was still here at that age because [doctors] think it actually started forming before I was really born,” Benbenek said. “It was pretty far developed by the time it was figured out. It’s scary to think about because you don’t hear about kids having cancer.”

Golisano became Benbenek’s home away from home. He stayed there permanently for two months, but he continues to visit to this day. He says he now goes there every year and a half through their adult level care.

Andrew Benbenek joins fellow OttoTHON organizers to promote the dance marathon fundraiser.
Andrew Benbenek joins fellow OttoTHON organizers near Hendricks Chapel to promote Saturday's dance marathon fundraiser.

At a young age, and right after getting cancer, a neurologist told Benbenek he wasn’t going to be able to do well in college. 18 years later, he attends his dream school at Syracuse, and he’s giving back to the hospital that gave him back his life.

Benbenek is on the Hospital and Family Relations Committee for OttoTHON. Last year, he participated for the first time in the school’s twelve-hour dance marathon to raise money for hospitalized children, but this year he’s joined their team.

“I didn’t completely understand what OttoTHON was when I started,” Benbenek noted. “It’s a dance marathon, but it’s more than a dance marathon because it’s benefitting somewhere right by us. Other THONs have to go hours sometimes to get to their Children’s Miracle Network.”

Benbenek said he went last year to have fun among his friends. This year, he’s there for the kids. In 2017, he raised the most money in the organization, approximately $2,800, and he’s trying to out do himself again.

Andrew Benbenek - Childhood cancer survivor
Family members and friends joined Andrew Benbenek at Golisano Children's Hospital during his treatments to battle cancer.

“I don’t believe you should stop at that goal because there’s never going to be really enough that we can do to help the kids, so I don’t believe I should stop right at a certain number,” he added.

He’s aiming for $3,000 by tomorrow’s event. He described his fundraising as almost a game he plays with himself. When he meets his goal, he raises the amount he wants.

“As I send my messages and emails for donations, I can really personalize what it’s like and what your money is going towards,” Benbenek explained.

He says the money this year will allow families to share a meal together, but also help renovate the pediatric surgery center.

By helping Golisano, Benbenek says that it’s his own way of giving kids a “second chance at life.”