Westmoreland man’s journey from ‘not walking’ to a run – Sports – Uticaod

Jason VanBenschoten has overcome many obstacles over the last two years.

The 34-year-old Westmoreland man has made remarkable strides following the discovery of a brain tumor and being given a cancer diagnosis in April 2018. VanBenschoten credits extensive help from a number of medical officials on his journey to recovery.

“These people that are involved deserve enormous credit,” VanBenschoten said. “Because I’m still here.”

Now, the lifelong Mohawk Valley resident and athlete has reached a point where he feels he can take on a new challenge in the form of his own 5K run (3.1 miles) with his wife, Bethany, and a few friends by his side this weekend in Westmoreland.

“He’s come an incredibly long way,” said Raymond A. Alessandrini, co-owner and occupational therapist at Utica’s Inertia Wellness Center who has worked with VanBenschoten. “If I saw Jason in the general public, it would be hard for me to see he had any problems at this time.”

VanBenschoten’s life suddenly changed in early April 2018 after returning from a Relay for Life event. At home, he felt unbearable pain and told his wife – then four months pregnant — he wasn’t sure what was wrong before losing consciousness on the bathroom floor. He was rushed to the hospital, and there Dr. Nicholas Qandah from Central New York Brain and Spine Neurosurgery discovered the problem in a waiting room.

“They found out that I had a brain tumor and it had hemorrhaged,” VanBenschoten said. “He could tell the pressure (in my head) was what made me pass out.”

Qandah removed 95 percent of what is described as a high grade glioma during an extended surgery, VanBenschoten was given a low chance of survival. The tumor turned out to be cancerous, VanBenschoten said.

“(My wife) remembers (Qandah) saying, ‘his chances are almost zero,’” said VanBenschoten, who remembers later waking up in the recovery room after hearing Qandah yell out his name.

VanBenschoten was severely affected. He couldn’t walk. He had no balance, he said. He had trouble talking. His eyesight was “horrible” at 20/2000 and he had vertigo, he said.

“It changed my entire life,” said VanBenschoten, who noted his memory wasn’t affected much. “My entire life has been about being athletic.”

About two weeks after surgery, his rehabilitation started in the Philadelphia area with chemotherapy and radiation. He eventually returned to the area and started working at Inertia Wellness Center with Alessandrini and Richard M. Panetta, who is co-owner and a physical therapist. VanBenschoten said a few Utica College physical therapy students have also helped him with his rehab.

“I showed up to rehab in wheelchair. By the time I left, I was walking like a mile,” said VanBenschoten, whose son was born in Aug. 2018. “At that point, I said my kid doesn’t want to grow up with a dad that has to use a cane. So, I threw down the cane and never picked up it back up.”

He started working with Alessandrini about a year ago, which included hand-eye coordination exercises and other things he’d need to get through his day. He’s now working with Panetta.

“It was always a focus of mine to take those extra steps and go as fast and safely as possible. (Alessandri) always had to reign me in. … They were like, “do it as you can,’” VanBenschoten said.

He’s made progress. He said his vision is at 20/35. He has some balance issues and has been able to run with some help from harnesses at the Interia’s building, he said. He returned to work earlier this year as a software engineer at Booz-Allen-Hamilton.

The best news: The cancer is gone, he said.

“His recovery is probably much farther along than the doctor ever would have expected it compared from the first prognosis,” Alessandrini said. “He had extreme perseverance and pushed and pushed. … But on his own he continued to get better.”

He felt good enough earlier this year to sign up for the Boilermaker Road Race’s 5K, which was ultimately changed to a virtual event in September due concerns with the coronavirus pandemic. His doctors had to OK his idea, he said.

Instead, he’s planning to run his own 5K on Saturday afternoon – dubbed the “Fauxlermaker” – with the finish line at 7 Hamlets Brewing Company in Westmoreland. He’s wearing a helmet featuring graphics from the organizations that have helped him along the way. He’s also made T-shirts with the proceeds set to be given to the American Cancer Society, he said.

“I have to have people near me. … I have to have that support system. I’m unbalanced. If I start falling down, I need someone there. … I still wanted to run something,” he said.

“This year, with all the limitations I’ve overcome and the ability to run, I feel like having something like this would be not only for myself – but for everyone involved – be inspirational. It is something my kid can look up later in late and say, ‘he went from not walking to a race.’”

Contact reporter Ben Birnell at 315-792-5032 or follow him on Twitter @OD_Birnell.

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