Hi, my name is Riley Benado. I’m 18 years old and I had cancer, but theres more to the story than that.
I’m a recent high school graduate from the small town of Paso Robles, CA. During my time in high school, I was able to fulfill one of my biggest dreams as a varsity cheerleading captain. I’ve cheered since I was 5 years old, and I continue to share that love while coaching the girls of the Paso Robles Youth Cheer Program. During my free time I love wakeboarding, taking pictures, writing poetry, and listening to my favorite singer, Taylor Swift.
My most favorite thing in the world is my family. I come from a very large but extremely close family who is understanding, crazy, and unconditionally supportive. As the third child out of four, I have had the most wonderful older sister and brother to look up to and the greatest little brother to set an example for. Not only is my family wonderful but so are my friends and loving, dedicated, supportive boyfriend. With my amazing family, wonderful friends, and life full of passions, I never imagined that my life would involve a battle with cancer…
On Monday September 14, 2015 I went to the gynecologist for a check up because I was experiencing severe bloating and pain in my pelvis. It looked like my stomach was 5 months pregnant. The doctors gave me a pregnancy test, and of course it was negative — I was experiencing all of this, yet I’m still a virgin.
Next, they decided it was best to do an ultrasound to see if anything would appear abnormal in my stomach. During this, they found extra fluid in my stomach, but it was difficult to see my organs well enough to notice if anything was wrong. On Thursday September 17, 2015, doctors performed a CAT scan to better see my ovaries and my appendix. The doctors called me back first thing Friday morning as soon as they received the results. I went back to my gynecologist as soon as they called, and she told me there was a 98% chance that I would be diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer…
She explained I had an 11 by 13 centimeter mass on “one” ovary (so large it affected both sides), extra fluid in my stomach, and enlarged lymph nodes — all indications of Ovarian Cancer. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. A few days later, my blood was sent to the lab to do some testing before I was called by an OB/GYN Oncology specialist in the Stanford area. Her name is Dr. O’Hanlan.
On September 23rd, I was officially diagnosed with stage 3 Ovarian cancer.
My surgery was scheduled for September 26th. The plan was that during the surgery, the mass, any and all infected organs, my ovaries, eggs, and my uterus would be removed. A full hysterectomy would have to be done.
At this age, the thought of removing these parts of my body was not only scary, but very heartbreaking. I have always dreamed of having my own children and raising a family. I love kids so much, so to think that I would never have a child with my own genes and my own characteristics broke me down.
Four incisions later, I woke up from surgery with miraculous news.
Dr. O’Hanlan was able to save one of my ovaries and my uterus! The tumor completely covered it, but she was able to carve away the tissue to save it. Everybody broke down in tears because this was absolutely a miracle! However, the answers did not come yet. The bad news was that the doctor said both her and the pathologist on site, after studying all of this for so many years, were actually completely baffled by the type of ovarian tumors I had. She said it was so, so rare that they could not determine any answers immediately. My entire abdomen was infected with small tumors that had spread beyond my ovaries. Surgery went over time as Dr. O’Hanlan was able to safely remove every. single. one. After surgery, I was completely clear of the crazy tumors and extra fluid in my body but I still was not out of the woods yet! The doctors then sent cells from each and every tumor up to UCSF to be tested and it would take two weeks at best to have any answers. Those two weeks were the longest two weeks ever! My recovery was going so smoothly but my mind would not calm down. I was so excited that doctors saved my fertility for the time being, but was so very afraid of what the results of those tests would be.
Two weeks later, I got the call from Dr. Kate O’ Hanlan…Her sentence started with the word “Congratulations” and already, I could not believe what I was hearing. The pathology results came and described that by taking out the tumors, all the cancer in my body was removed! At this point, I do not have to endure Chemo or Radiation due to finding the cancer in enough time – while it was just inside the tumors and not killing the cells in my organs.
I am so blessed that I only had to live this horrible dream for a short time, but I am aware that I will have to fight this battle my whole entire life. Although there is a chance that this cancer will not come back as a result of the wonders that Dr. O’ Hanlan made happen, I will have screenings to go to every year to make sure this disease stays away! Never did I think that at only 18 years old I would be calling myself a cancer survivor. To know that I conquered a type of cancer that is so rare in teenage girls makes me feel like I can conquer anything life throws at me. The outcome of my surgery and diagnosis has completely made me believe in miracles. Without my family and the #RallyForRiley team that I had behind me, I do not think that I would have gotten so lucky. There was so much love sent my way which is complete proof that LOVEbeatsCANCER. During my battle, I found a strength within myself that I never knew existed and I hope to give some of that strength to others fighting this disease when they need it. The #RallyForRiley has fought with me, but now we Rally for all the other warriors!