Life is a precious gift, one I cherish with every breath I take, each and every day. Some people take for granted how lucky they are to be alive. Life is short and very fragile, one minute you’re here and the next you’re gone.
I was 16-years-old when I first lost someone who was very near and dear to my heart, my grandfather. Many of my friends either lost their grandparents very young or never had the chance to meet them. I was very blessed to have been raised with my grandparents, and the memories we made will last a lifetime. Since the day I found out my grandfather, who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, had passed away I started making it a priority to try to enjoy every moment.
It’s not to say I’m out fulfilling my bucket list, which I have never really given any thought, but I revel in the moments I spend with my friends and family because I don’t know when my time will come to an end. Every laugh, every giggle, every tear, every hug, every kiss, every moment spent with the ones I love are imprinted in my heart and in my mind.
On June 3rd at 10:37pm I received a message from a dear friend whom I hadn’t spoken much to in the past two years or so. In this message, I received news that he had been diagnosed with lymphoma, a rare form of cancer.
“I started getting symptoms back in 2010, around my 30th birthday. I would wake up in the morning and my face would be puffy and would start to swell up,” says Benenati. “So when I went to the doctor they said it was probably allergies – I’ve had allergies my whole life and these symptoms were completely different.”
He persisted for almost a month with repeat visits to the doctor because he was still waking up with this puffiness in his face and neck. Finally, one doctor decided to do a round of tests which included an x-ray and ultrasound, and that’s when they found the tumor sitting in the centre of Benenati’s chest.
The tumor was pushing up against a vein that drains the blood from the brain back to the heart. The pressure on that vein was what was causing the swelling.
“You sit there and you think, here I am a young man at 30-years-old, and I have cancer,” he says. “Right away you think it’s terminal, you think life-ending. Everything goes through your mind. My wife had just found out she was pregnant with our little girl, we’re also newly married, I felt like there was so much more and I still feel like there’s so much more that I need to do in this world before I go anywhere.”
After going through numerous rounds of radiation and chemotherapy, and even a stem cell transplant, nothing had worked. The cancer was back. His only option was a drug that is still in clinical trial, a drug that could give him a 75% chance of getting better. The problem was the cost – each injection costs about $14,000 and he needs a minimum of 6, which comes close to $100,000. So his plan was to have a fundraiser to raise the funds he needs for this treatment.
Monday morning, after reading Benenati’s message, I started emailing everyone I knew who could help me get the word out about Benenati’s fundraiser. I was a busy bee actively spreading the word on Twitter and Facebook. I soon received a message from eTalk host Ben Mulroney, who said he wanted to help.
Wednesday June 6th Benenati contacted me to let me know that eTalk wanted to interview him, which they would air that night. Later that week Benenati was on CHCH to talk about his battle with cancer, and later that month, CTV featured an interview with Benenati on their website to help promote his fundraiser, A Night of Hope.
“It feels good too, to know that I’ve left such a positive impact on all the people who I’ve met in the past and the present,” says Benenati.
“I try to be a good person, it’s something I strive for everyday, it’s in my nature coming from a big family and having those morals and values passed down from my grandparents, my parents, my aunts and uncles – it’s just the way I live life.”
The night of the fundraiser quickly came, and it was time to celebrate Benenati’s life – the adored son, the faithful husband, the loving father, the wonderful friend, the amazing singer, the outstanding man who has touched the lives of so many. Over 1,000 of friends and family gathered Thursday July 5th at Chateau Le Jardin Banquet Hall in Woodbridge to help Benenati raise the funds he needs for the treatment that could very possibly save his life.
Hosted by Z103.5’s Tony Monaco, the evening included live entertainment by Saturday Night Jive and award-winning singer/songwriter Carlo Coppola, and a few numbers sung by Benenati himself. It was an evening of love and support, joy and tears – an evening no one there that night will ever forget.
In ticket sales alone, Benenati reached his goal and raised over $100,000 that night. That didn’t include the $10,000 that came from his employer and co-workers or the $3,000 that was donated for a black GIO scooter. Everyone opened their hearts and their wallets that night and donated generously, something Benenati couldn’t be more thankful for.
“(The fundraiser) was incredible and we are so blessed with all the love and support we received, not only from that night but throughout our lives,” says Benenati. “There was well over 1,000 supporters in attendance, exemplifying a community going out of their way for the love and life of one person. It was an honor and a humbling experience to be on the receiving end of all of this support and love.”
“Although we gathered to collect and raise money for treatments, the meaning of that night surpassed any monetary value,” he continues. “It was a night of community, friendship, love and hope. A Night of Hope was not only for myself, but for anyone facing any adversity in their lives – to be able to find, cherish and live all the positives in their lives and let them overcome the bad. This is the true goal that I feel we lived out on A Night Of Hope.”
I met Benenati back in 2005 when he auditioned for Canadian Idol. I was covering the show for Metro News, and was interviewing the contestants when we met. From the moment he started to sing, I was in awe with his beautiful voice. Benenati even sang at my wedding, a very special moment to an already special day I will never forget.
Even though he didn’t Canadian Idol, Benenati made a real connection with many people, people who today have helped him fight his battle with cancer.
“It’s incredible, I’ve always felt loved in my life, but it’s amazing to see how this community, friends, family and everybody came together to help just one person and that person’s needs. It really is humbling. It is overwhelming and it’s a beautiful thing.”
Check out the following links featuring interviews with Vince Benenati and his battle with cancer.
Vincenzo Benenati & his family in A Night of Hope
Vince Benenati’s Night of Hope OMNI Coverage – July 6th
Vince Benenati’s Night of Hope etalk Clip – July 6th
Vince Benenati’s Night of Hope CTV Coverage – July 7th
Vince Benenati & Zante Lovric’s First Dance at Their Wedding (Lyrics & Melody by Vince Benenati)