When Ray and Frank Bennett get together, they share a lot of laughter. Some of the banter, though, stems from a moment of profound danger.
“Frank would call up, and instead of saying hi, he’d say, ‘How are my stem cells?’” recalled Ray Bennett.
Frank Bennett, left, donated lifesaving stem cells to his brother, Ray. (Photo by Wayne Lewis)
“‘Just checking in on my stem cells,’” his older brother chimed in.
Frank Bennett’s cells helped save his brother’s life.
In a bid to beat leukemia, Ray Bennett sought a hematopoietic cell transplant — a complex treatment that uses donated blood stem cells to renew a patient’s circulatory and immune system. Today, he is leukemia-free.
The experience not only drew the brothers closer together, but also inspired Ray Bennett to give back, both to his community and City of Hope.
In 1995, Ray Bennett, of Granada Hills, Calif., already had survived prostate cancer when a follow-up blood test showed alarming results.
His blood was crowded with about five times the normal amount of white blood cells.
Faced with chronic myeloid leukemia, he began interferon treatments. But it was no cure, and he grew weary of interferon’s flu-like side effects.
“It became a manner of strict frustration,” said Ray Bennett, a retired Los Angeles Police Department detective. “I finally sat down with the hematologist and said, ‘Look, we both know the only thing that can possibly cure this is a transplant.’”
When another center turned down Bennett due to age — he was in his 50s — he successfully pushed for a referral to City of Hope.
After a high-intensity regimen of chemotherapy at City of Hope to kill off the leukemia cells, he received an infusion of his brother’s blood stem cells in 1997.
He would encounter complications in the following years, but one particular moment spurred confidence he could make it through the tough times — his first visit to City of Hope’s Bone Marrow Transplant Reunion. The annual event draws thousands of survivors and family members back to City of Hope. Transplant recipients wear badges announcing the number of years since their treatment.
“I see this guy walking around, and I’m seeing ‘15.’ That really gives you something to shoot for. I’m going, ‘Yeah, there is hope around here,’” said Bennett.
Today, he is free of leukemia, and he faced down a recurrence of prostate cancer, as well, with help from City of Hope.
The brothers’ relationship also has thrived.
“We’d kind of been on different paths for a long time, even growing up,” said Frank Bennett, a Santa Monica, Calif., resident who works in finance. “There’s definitely an increased bond since the transplant. It dawned on me, ‘Hey, we’re missing an opportunity here.’”
Ray Bennett credits his survival to early detection. Physicians first identified his prostate cancer through screening. And tests related to his cancer treatment uncovered his leukemia before symptoms appeared.
This is a message he now delivers as a speaker during police roll calls, where he encourages officers to talk to their physicians about early detection for breast or prostate cancer.
His treatment at City of Hope also has inspired him to give back by including the center in his estate plans.
“They basically saved my life,” he said. “They do great work, and I’m hoping my bequest is going to help them continue.”