By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 10/11/10
Perhaps the most heart-warming story that came out of the 4th annual Nick Colleluori Classic last weekend at Ridley was the remarkable recovery of Eastern sophomore goalie Aaron Benz.
A scholastic All-American from St. Xavier, Ky., Benz was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease in the spring of his senior year, six days before his 18th birthday and in the midst of the high school lacrosse season. He played out the year, leading his team to the state championship and immediately began six months of chemotherapy before entering his freshman year at Eastern as an Engineering student in the Templeton Honors College.
After finishing treatments, Benz started all 16 games last spring, helping the Eagles go 11-5 while reaching the Middle Atlantic Conference playoffs. Today, Benz is cancer-free and could be deemed in remission if doctors find no cancer after his next PET scan.
Benz had been looking forward to this event for months. He recently met the Colleluori family and, of course, knows the story of how Nick Colleluori created a foundation to help fight blood cancer after being diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma while playing lacrosse at Hofstra.
Benz almost lost his chance to play in the Classic when he contracted pneumonia early last week. He spent two days in the hospital, but doctors found no connection with his current recovery from his diagnosis.
Benz made a quick recovery and was told by doctors he could play Sunday if he felt up to it. Since Eastern was slated to open with a 9:30 a.m. contest against powerful Cabrini – a school located across the street in St. David’s – Benz was determined to play in that game.
He played well, and although the Eagles fell, 9-3, he was happy with his team’s play, but even happier to compete in such a meaningful event.
“When I heard we were playing in this event I was really stoked,” he said. “I heard we were playing Cabrini and the doctor said be careful, but that I could play. I was just a little tired at the end.”
Benz said he didn’t know how to react when he was told he had cancer.
“I was sitting on my bed and my mom walked in and told me,” he recalled. “I really didn’t know what to think. I didn’t get depressed, I was just sitting there thinking, what’s next?”
What came next were draining sessions of chemotherapy, treatments that left him completely inactive for a day afterwards. But he said his friends and family as well as teammates, teachers and professors have been so supportive that he managed to keep optimistic.
“I started chemo at the end of May (2009) so when I came here, I already was used to the cycle,” he said, “I knew I would kind of be down for a day because the chemo would take so much out of me.
“My teaches were great and all my teammates were great. I remember on Halloween everybody was out, but my teammate and current roommate, David Darling, stayed in and hung out with me because I had chemo that day.”
Eastern coach Brandon Childs, one of Benz’s biggest supporters, was happy he got to play Sunday.
“He was outstanding today,” Childs said. “He had a 103 temperature and when you hear that you immediately call the oncologist.”
Benz said he is not surprised to see the lacrosse community rally behind the HEADstrong Foundation and its mission.
“To see how far this organization has gone is unbelievable,” he said.