Cancer survivor's balloon travels 900 miles to VA - NBC12 - WWBT - Richmond, VA News On Your Side

Cancer survivor's balloon travels 900 miles from St. Louis to Prince George

Denise Benson Denise Benson

Any cancer patient will tell you, that final day of chemotherapy is a day you never forget. It's celebrated in different ways. For Denise Benson, it was with a balloon.

Diagnosed with breast cancer in early 2012, Benson underwent a double mastectomy and started chemotherapy soon after.

"I mean, I call it the necessary evil. It took me down to the worst I ever felt in my life," said Benson. "At times, I didn't think I'd survive it."

When she made it through that last treatment, conquering such a difficult hurdle, a celebration was in order.

"I knew I just couldn't hold onto that. I had to let that feeling go, I accomplished the chemo," said Benson.

With her sister, and nurses by her side, Denise released those feelings along with a balloon into the sky above Saint Louis.

"It was so incredibly windy that day, and the trees were blowing, and the electric lines and telephone lines were moving, and I just kept thinking, 'oh, this is just so beautiful, but it's never going to go anywhere,'" said nurse Charlene Archibald.

"That it would get stuck over the highway, that was my initial thought, and then I, you know, paused, and I thought, 'something good will happen out of this.'" 

Call it intuition, or the winds of fate, no one could have predicted how far that balloon would travel, landing six days later, 900 miles away.

Ian Titley, taking a break from a nearby baseball tournament, spotted it along a nature trail in Prince George.

"Being an old boy scout at heart, when I saw some trash in the woods, I thought I'd pick it up and haul it out," said Titley. "Sure enough, when I got to it, I realized it wasn't just an ordinary piece of trash."

Titley, whose own wife beat breast cancer's odds, headed back to the ballpark.

"All I needed to do was to get it into the right hands, and the rest would be history," said Titley.

Mom Sandy Shealy was keeping score.

"It was our do or die game, and we were not doing well," said Shealy.

The team's loss recorded, Shealy delivered the well-traveled balloon and its message to the young players with the heavy hearts.

"I said, 'You know guys, I'm hoping this will put into perspective... yeah, you had a tough loss right here, and you battled and you lost, but here's a lady who is battling and she's winning, and this for her life, not a game,'" said Shealy.

Putting their disappointment behind them, the team emailed Denise Benson a photograph of them, holding the balloon.

"They were all smiling at the end. They were happy at the end of that loss. They got it," said Benson.

She likes to think of it as an unexpected victory on the battlegrounds of Virginia.

"You can't give up. You may not win that day, but in the long run you do your best, and hope for the best. And good things will come," said Benson.

"I just think something so far away, that I would have never known anything about, has touched me, has touched all of the boys on the team," said Shealy.

"I mean, the balloon was a dollar balloon from a Dollar Store. You know? To go 900 miles in six days, it's remarkable," said Benson. "It was meant to be. There was something else guiding that balloon."

Denise' similarities with Sandy Shealy are uncanny. The two are about the same age, have kids the same age and Shealy's daughter attends the University of Missouri, only about 125 miles from St. Louis. Denise just passed the one-year anniversary of her diagnosis and continues to make progress.

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