Local cancer patient finds strength in art, positivity

Cancer patient Robert Bennett holds the radiation mask he repurposed to look like a samurai’s mask.

Receiving a cancer diagnosis is often frightening or overwhelming for patients, but Enterprise Cancer Center patient Robert Bennett is using art and the power of positivity to navigate cancer treatment one day at a time.

Bennett was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in November when “polyps” were discovered on the side of his neck. After a biopsy revealed the cancer had started in his tongue and migrated to the lymph nodes in his neck, he began radiation treatment at the Enterprise Cancer Center under the care of Dr. Hejal Patel.

Bennett said his experience with radiation, a very involved method of cancer treatment, was part of what inspired him to create something beautiful out of an otherwise frustrating piece of equipment.

“My wife (Betty) found a site on the internet where people had been taking their radiation masks and making art out of them, and there are several places around the country where they display them,” Bennett said. “I approached the whole thing with the warrior-type aspect, and I wasn’t going to do it at first, but one of the reasons I decided to do it was, at the very end of radiation… It’s like being microwaved -- the meat, the skin, it’s like cooking you from the inside out, and it’s not so bad at first, but at the end it becomes very painful because you haven’t really recovered from the day before and you’re just getting dose after dose after dose. So I took the mask out to the garage and set it on my worktable and just kept looking at it. I went into my wife’s craft room and got some fabric, stuff that I thought would look good and fit how the samurai masks used to be made, and I started putting it together.”

Bennett’s creation took about three days to complete. He said the process helped him to accept his cancer diagnosis, treatment, and the “new person” he became following his diagnosis.

“It has helped me accept it. I’m not the same person I was four or six months ago -- I’m somebody new, I have different things about me, and I accept them now as who I am,” Bennett said. “After two months of wearing that mask for 15 minutes a day, Monday through Friday, you’re glad to never have to put it back on again, but then it’s also become a part of my life. It’s helped me accept it. And then I had surgery, so you just have to accept who you are -- the new you -- and just drive on.”

According to Bennett, another key aspect of navigating life with cancer is to make positivity a cornerstone of one’s mental attitude.

“The thing about me that could help other people going through this is, you just have to keep a positive attitude,” Bennett said. “You can’t let cancer take control of your life, of your attitude, of who you are. I keep a positive attitude; I get up every morning and go look in the mirror and put a smile on. What else can you do? I just take it day by day, however it’s given to me -- okay, this happened, what do we have to do to fix it?”

Bennett said that positivity and seeking creative outlets are choices that cancer patients must make for themselves, but he recommends both for individuals currently undergoing treatment.

“Everybody has to make that choice, but yes, it’ll help. It really does,” Bennett said. “It gets you busy getting back into the real world, back into life when the treatments are over, but it’s so fresh since you’re still going through it. It does help a lot.”

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