Mt. Vernon students are taught lessons on kindness, respect, compassion, and other character-building traits beginning in elementary school. Several Mt. Vernon High School (MVHS) students genuinely demonstrated all of these as they supported their classmate, Ben Thompson, while he battled Lymphoma cancer his senior year at MVHS.
“This is your season to do great things throwing that discus”, said MVHS Track & Field Coach, Bruce Kendall, to then MVHS Junior, Ben Thompson, at the start of the spring 2016 Track & Field season. First track meet of the spring season, the discus only flew 90 feet, a far cry from the normal 130 feet the discus normally flew from Ben's powerful right throwing arm. He sat out the rest of the match that evening. Severe and persistent pain began in his right shoulder. Eventually, he lost all mobility in the shoulder and arm. Pain was brutal with no relief in sight.
First treated as a sports injury, doctors could not agree on a diagnosis until July with two weeks before Ben’s senior year was to start. The diagnosis was surprisingly Large B Cell Lymphoma Non-Hodgkins Disease. It had manifested in his right distal humerus (shoulder). The tumor had grown to a large ball which stopped blood flow and was quickly eating away the humeral head. Two weeks after the final diagnosis, Ben was on a road to begin six chemo treatments, while losing the first half of his senior year. How the Mt. Vernon community immediately supported Ben and his family: Kenny (Dad), Lori (Mom), and Matt (brother and MVHS sophomore), was truly a miracle unfolding.
The first act of support and love came from MVHS Soccer Coach, Matt Mayhew. The day after the diagnosis, Ben’s brother, Matt, was leaving for a weekend soccer camp at Anderson University with the MVHS soccer team. Lori immediately reached out to Coach Mayhew who rallied the team members and families around Matt and the rest of the Thompson family. Matt was covered with support and love from the entire team, and it was the strong support of the coaches and team that held him together. Coach Matt Mayhew created the "MV Kick for the Cure" inaugural soccer game. The soccer game raised awareness of cancer survivors, with an honor going to Ben on game night. Funds were also raised to support cancer patients. The MVHS soccer family has been instrumental in providing constant love and support to the Thompson family.
Many MVHS students, friends and family of Ben wore bright green bracelets to support Ben throughout the year. The bracelets have “Stay Strong Ben“ imprinted on them, with the quote from Isaiah 41:10: "Do Not Fear". These were a constant reminder to Ben and his family of the continual support and positive thoughts from the community.
Next, MVHS Junior Trevor Bond dedicated his football season as the team’s kicker/punter (and fellow soccer teammate) to raise funds for pediatric cancer research. Through a Kick-It.org website, donations of $1,600+ were raised in honor of Ben to fund pediatric cancer research.
The Thompson family was next approached by MVHS Senior, Wilken Baldwin. Wilken spearheaded the idea of organizing the Lettuce Club at MVHS. The Lettuce Club was an entertaining way to support Ben in a friendly lettuce-eating competition. Lettuce was chosen because it was green, the color that represented Ben's cancer. The first meeting of the club showed incredible support for their fellow classmate, Ben, through lettuce club shirts and other promotions. Students could purchase a green shirt for $15, participate for $5, and watch for $3. The first quarter's winner was Luke Smoot who chowed a head of lettuce in just under seven minutes, and the second quarter's honors went to Ben Thompson in under two minutes. The family would also like to thank staff sponsor, Amanda Ruble, for helping the club rally around Ben.
MVHS Principal, Greg Roach, worked with Ben to take his classes online the first semester. Bronwyn Kotarski, MVHS Counselor, has been instrumental in personally mentoring Ben through his schedules and applications for college. On some of Ben's better days he would spend a couple of hours helping staff in the front office.
Ben was a peer mentor in the special education class during his junior spring semester. Upon learning of Ben’s cancer diagnosis this current semester, another special education peer mentor, Delaney Johnstone, led the group in making a card full of special notes and pictures that was hand-delivered to him.
The MVHS Spirit Club, also known as the Marauder Mob, supported Ben in his fight by having a "green out night" at a football game. The student section, decked in green shirts and paint, had signs, chants and cheers for Ben. It was an extremely impressionable night for Ben, who is normally quiet and reserved, to be the center of attention.
On Thanksgiving week, MVHS Students: Tori Whyde, James McCloud, Wilken Baldwin, Richard Brattain, Trevor Bond, Zeke Ballard, Donovan Bigelow and Cassidy Parker, gifted Ben and Matt with a “gift of life” – a five-year old black lab named Laney. Laney was adopted from a local animal shelter and purchased with funds raised from the Lettuce Club and the Marauder Mob (Spirit Club). The students surprised Ben and showed up at the Thompson house with Laney, the therapy dog. The family has been amazed at the outpouring of love and unselfishness from the MVHS students.
Mt. Comfort United Methodist Church, where the Thompson family attends, knew Ben holds an avid interest in aviation. The congregation amazingly gifted Ben with a night flight at the local Indianapolis Regional Airport in a small, two seater Cessna. One of Ben's dreams became a reality, thanks to his church.
Lastly, but most importantly, the Thompson Family was contacted by Tammy Lewin, mother of former MVHS student Kendra Lewin, who left too soon due to a vigilant fight with cancer in 2014. Kendra would be graduating with the MVHS Class of 2017 this coming May. Tammy Lewin and family set up the Kendra Lewin Memorial Foundation in honor of their daughter. Each year since her passing, the family has raised money to donate to the Make-A-Wish Foundation and also to grant a community member a wish. Ben was this year’s recipient from the Lewin Family.
This year the Mt. Vernon community helped raise over $600 for Make-a-Wish through donations at a football game. The Lewin family also raffles off Colts tickets and raised $12,000. They donated the funds to the WZPL Make-a-Wish event, which doubles the funds through corporate matches. Therefore, their $12,000 became $24,000, which equates to granting three wishes for cancer patients.
Tammy Lewin, Kendra's mother, stated, "When I heard about Ben's situation I didn't need to think about it any further. We knew we wanted to help him. Chemo is tough and we wanted to lift his spirits. His family is so gracious they didn't want to accept it. We were able to fund all but one of his wishes."
Since the cancer took away Ben's ability and dream to throw discus at a college level, his wish to learn to play bass guitar and write music evolved. A bass guitar and amp was given to Ben as the Lewin’s way of saying, “Congratulations, you made it through chemo!“ Other gifts were also showered upon Ben as well.
December 2016 brought great news to Ben and his family. Ben can look forward to his second semester of his senior year with the hope and reassurance that the tumor has gone into remission. He will slowly progress back into the school scene in January of 2017, with the anticipation of graduation in May 2017. His plans upon graduation are to get back what the cancer took away physically and emotionally, find a job, and spend a week at the First Descents camp for cancer patients and survivors. He is also preparing for a new journey in life at Ivy Tech in Indianapolis studying Criminal Justice. He plans to give back to others and make a difference in someone's life, as repayment for the hope and support others gave him.
MVHS Senior, Ben Thompson, shared, "giving up was never an option. Being negative was never an option. As a family, we faced it head on without fear. I want to thank you for the prayers and support you have been giving me during my three month battle against non-hodgkins lymphoma. I really don’t have the words to express how I feel about it."
Ben continued, "going through this whole process made me realize more than ever how important it is to go out there and do the things you love right now and not waste time, because your life could take a turn for the worst at any moment. Also, no matter how bad you think things are, remember that it's never as bad as you think, and you can make things better for yourself and others by having a positive attitude and being appreciative of everything God has given you. If you ever get cancer, whether it be next month, or when you are elderly, no matter your diagnosis, take it head on and keep living your life. In my opinion, you only lose the battle against cancer if you let it defeat you mentally."
The entire Mt. Vernon Community is thankful Ben is in remission and will carry on with his senior year and life goals. Special thank you to all the students, from the "green out" football night, to those sending Ben positive thoughts.... thank you for making a difference in someone's very important life.