To set the record straight, Anna de Benedictis did not run away and join the circus.
Some may have believed that to be true. Instead, the teen took a break from school to deal with a form of bone cancer that resulted in her having parts of her leg removed and replaced with metal pieces. She returned to school frail, with difficulty moving around without a cane and a wig. De Benedictis wouldn’t opt for the super short hairdo now, but she is happy she decided to go to school sans wig at least one day before her hair totally grew out.
Others remind her
Overcoming cancer is something de Benedictis often forgets is a big deal. As she prepares to graduate from Menlo-Atherton High School, others remind her of the feat. The fact that she’s graduating on time, they point out, is an accomplishment. De Benedictis, on the other hand, is focused on the fact that everyone around her is also prepping for college and trying to decide what to do after high school.
“Anna is spunky, creative, lively, caring, courageous, determined and — maybe best of all — fun,” said M-A college adviser Alice Kleeman. “She’s a terrific student who didn’t let missing a huge chunk of freshman and sophomore years battling a particularly painful and dangerous form of cancer stop her from excelling academically and moving forward with a positive attitude that just won’t quit. … She has experienced far more pain than most people, but her challenges have simply led her to appreciate life more than most people, and to have a mature perspective on what really matters.”
Interestingly, de Benedictis’ independent flare didn’t come out right away. As a child, de Benedictis described herself as being nervous to try new things. She feared being bad at them because she’d never tried whatever the task was.
That changed in high school, particularly after finding a bump on her leg.
De Benedictis noticed the bump due to pain she felt when running in physical education class. It was nearly the end of her freshman year when de Benedictis went to the doctor. She’d previously suffered a condition caused by bones growing faster than her tendons and assumed the bump simply meant the problem had returned. But the doctor wanted to check it out further. Doctors decided to test her bone marrow. She used crutches at M-A while awaiting the results — not an easy task for a small girl. Results showed that de Benedictis had osteosarcoma, bone cancer. Treatment needed to begin quickly.
Truthfully, de Benedictis doesn’t remember much about treatment due to the drugs. She’s still greatly affected by certain smells, such as bleach. Thanks to the help of the Santa Clara Kaiser pediatric oncology team, de Benedictis’ nine-month treatment included a knee replacement surgery, a metal shin being put into her left leg and chemotherapy to keep the cancer from coming back.
During the treatment, the school district provided her with a tutor to help her keep up with studies. De Benedictis focused on English and history, classes students need four years of to graduate. She credits that with giving her the ability to get back on track to graduate on time. De Benedictis finished treatment just before her 16th birthday.
She returned to school for the second half of sophomore year as a frail, pale girl with no hair and a cane. It was a challenge to maneuver the social landscape of high school after being out of the loop for so long but de Benedictis found her place in school and out.
Art had become an outlet. She was introduced to film photography in middle school, an expensive hobby she still enjoys. Then, when going through cancer, de Benedictis turned to art to create unique shoes that she sold to raise funds. She was granted a wish through the Make-A-Wish Greater Bay Area Chapter. It included going to Bermuda with her family but didn’t include the cost of bringing friends — which de Benedictis wanted. She’s since become quite involved with not only Make-A-Wish but also the American Cancer Society. For both organizations, she’s taken advantage of the opportunities given to her to support the cause — through support, advocating and even art work.
At school, de Benedictis joined the school’s literary magazine and the ecology group SEEDS. Actually, environmental science is of particular interest to de Benedictis. Through SEEDS, she was able to check out research by Stanford University and plan Earth Week activities that included planting a tree on campus. Outside of school, de Benedictis enjoys riding horses — not something she would have expected to do after her extensive leg surgery.
Finding a marriage of her love of artistic expression and environmental science is de Benedictis’ professional dream. First, she plans to study in the fall at the University of California at Davis.
Menlo-Atherton High School’s graduation will be held at 4 p.m.. Thursday, June 6 at the football field, 555 Middlefield Road, Atherton. No tickets are required.
Great Grads is in its eighth year profiling one graduating senior from each of our local schools. Schools have the option to participate. Those that choose to participate are asked to nominate one student who deserves recognition.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 105.