Originally Posted Online: March 25, 2013, 9:24 am
Last Updated: March 25, 2013, 3:10 pm

Q-C cancer survivor to share her story at national event

Comment on this story

By Laura Anderson Shaw, landerson@qconline.com

More photos from this shoot
Photo: John Greenwood
Sandy Ben-Nun is one of three winners in the national Survivor Life Makeover contest. The National Women's Survivors Convention is partnering with YMCA of the USA and the Livestrong Foundation to help change the lives of three female cancer survivors with Survivor Life Makeovers. Ben-Nun is a breast cancer survivor, diagnosed in December 2012, and currently going through treatment. She is 45 years old and married with 3 children ages 15-22.

It was a chilly March morning, and Hammond-Henry Hospital home health care nurse Sandy Ben-Nun was readying to leave the Two Rivers YMCA in Moline clad in brightly-colored scrubs, a white skull cap covering her bald head.

The 45-year-old Colona woman has been in for the fight of her life since she was diagnosed with breast cancer last November. Since then, she has had a double mastectomy and currently is undergoing chemotherapy.

She said she has her good days and her bad.

"You want to be angry; you want to be sad," she said. "I don't have time for that."

Ms. Ben-Nun said she had done it all right in life; she is a hard worker, and is raising three kids with her husband of more than two decades.

"This wasn't supposed to happen to me," she said.

But it did.And "I'm here," she said.

After the tears and the anger, she realized she can't worry. "Why worry about things you have no control over?"

Instead, "I'm OK" has become her "mantra."

When her hair started falling out, she had a head shaving party, complete with cocktails. It gave her back control.

A few other people shaved their heads, too, including her 14-year-old son whose hair had just grown back from having two brain surgeries in the fall.

She has an incredible support system, she said, made up of her friends, coworkers, family and even her patients.

At the party, there were only laughs."I didn't cry," she said.

"Your hair and your boobs don't define who you are," she said. "Living is the goal."

She also took herself to Gilda's Club, and it helped.

"I made myself go there," she said. "You've got to keep living."

That attitude is, in part, why Ms. Ben-Nun recently was chosen as one of three winners in the nation-wide Survivor Life Makeover Contest.

The National Women's Survivors Convention partnered with YMCA of the USA and the Livestrong Foundation to give makeovers to three female cancer survivors who represent survivors of all ages, types of cancer and its stages.

Ms. Ben-Nun and the other winners will exercise at their respective Ys, and their stories and "transformations" will be revealed at the inaugural National Women's Survivor Convention August 22-24 in Nashville, Tenn.

Ms. Ben-Nun has been involved with the 12-week Livestrong program at the Y since February. According to a news release, the Livestrong at the YMCA program was created to support the increasing number of cancer survivors who are in the transitional period of completing cancer treatment and the shift to feeling physically and emotionally strong enough to return to "normal" or "new normal."

The program works to build muscle mass and strength in its participants, reduce the severity of the side effects from therapy and more, the release states.

"We are here to help them heal," saidTwo Rivers YMCA healthy lifestyles director, Jen Foley.

Ms. Ben-Nun said she and her group mates meet twice a week and do cardio, strength training and more.No matter anyone's color, age or type of cancer they've survived, it doesn't matter, Ms. Ben-Nun said. She is able to connect with people who are just like her.

"When you're here, you're all in the same boat," she said -- "rowing to live."

Ms. Ben-Nun couldn't believe it when she learned she had been chosen as a winner. She said she's still in shock. Ms. Foley had nominated her for the contest, but she said she sees herself as an "everyday woman."

"I'm nobody (special)," Ms. Ben-Nun said.

But knowing other people will hear her story and take something home with them, "if someone can hear what I have to say," Ms. Ben-Nun said, "it's worth it."

Ms. Foley said when she had the opportunity to nominate someone from the Y's Livestrong group for the contest, she thought Ms. Ben-Nun would be "perfect."

She said Ms. Ben-Nun exhibits how everyone's attitudes should be towards life.

"She's just a great spirit," she said.

In a recent phone interview, National Women's Survivors Convention founder and executive director Karen Shayne said she was very excited about this summer's event.

The convention, "created by women (cancer) survivors, for women (cancer) survivors," also is part of the Women's Survivor Alliance, and will feature an "Oprah-style," interactive forum with guest and expert speakers.

"What we are striving to (do) is present in everyday terms solutions to the issues that surround women and survivorship," Ms. Shayne said, involving topics such as careers, sexuality, legal rights, finance, nutrition and more.

The winners of the makeover contest will be video documented until the convention, Ms. Shayne said, tracking their journeys, covering their family dynamics and following everything they have to go through to get their lives back together after being diagnosed with cancer.

Before the convention, they'll fly to Tennessee and receive a spa day and head-to-toe makeovers.

People are beginning to realize "survivorship" is an issue, Ms. Shayne said, so the organization is trying to "really get a representation of the issues that women go through."

If there are women in the audience who are struggling with their journeys, Ms. Shayne said the videos of the contest winners will serve as "a representation of what greatness can be, and how you can overcome."

And Ms. Ben-Nun was perfect for the part, Ms. Shayne said.

"This is the beginning of a movement towards understanding and being able to cope with issues surrounding survivorship for women."

Ms. Shayne said all women cancer survivors are welcome to attend the event. For more information about the convention, visitsurvivorsconvention.com.

To watch Ms. Ben-Nun's teaser video on YouTube, visit youtube.com/watch?v=cZmeczdBNSA.