The South Pigeon Lake fire department have a great respect and love for their Chief, Wayne Benson. Wayne has been an integral part of their team for a long time, so when he had to step away from active duty due to health concerns the department felt his absence.
2020 was a difficult year for many, and for Wayne it has been extra out of the ordinary. In early 2020, Wayne began treatment for his rare form of cancer, one that impacts only 2 out of every 100,000 people. Faye Benson, Wayne’s wife, says that the average life expectancy for patients with Wayne’s diagnosis is seven months.
Wayne’s first round of treatment in 2020 started with 12 weeks of chemotherapy as part of a clinical trial for his specific cancer. He was the first patient in Edmonton to ever be part of this chemotherapy clinical trial.
This December Wayne was able to receive a stem cell transplant following six days of chemo and two days of full body radiation. Wayne and Faye have been living in an off-hospital apartment in Calgary with their floor dedicated to bone marrow transplant patients only since the transplant.
Doctors have told Wayne that the second clinical trial he was part of has gone as well, if not better than the first. Faye said that doctors told him that he has paved the way for others because of his success with the trials, they will now be using them on more cancer patients.
“He said right from the beginning, even if this doesn’t work for me maybe it will help somebody else,” Faye says about Wayne’s choice on participating in the clinical trials.
Faye says right now Wayne is ahead of plan for his treatments in Calgary, and jokes that as an active guy Wayne has surprised many doctors by choosing to walk instead of using a wheelchair the majority of the time. They have nicknamed him “the walker”.
“He’s done really well with his treatment,” Faye says. “They gave him a 40 per cent chance of getting out of the hospital period when we started the treatment. And now they are talking about possibly letting him go home a week early.”
Wayne’s firefighters know Wayne’s battle, and they also know that if he had the choice he would be at the hall with them in a heartbeat.
To show their support for him, one of his firefighters at South Pigeon Lake, Cade Johnston, decided to create the “Walk for Wayne” event. Johnston planned for himself and his fellow firefighters at SPL fire to walk across Pigeon Lake on Jan. 30, 2021 in full bunker gear as a show of solidarity for Wayne.
“He’s done so much for us at the hall, so much for all the communities around the lake that this seemed like the least we could do and just help him in his time of need,” says Johnston.
In addition to the immediate support of his fellow SPL firefighters, Johnston has recieved support from other Wetaskiwin County fire departments including Mulhurst, Millet, and Wetaskiwin. The Fire Chief from the Oyen fire department and long-time friend of Wayne’s, Paul Lijdsman also joined the walk.
“The feedback and support I have received for this is pretty astonishing,” says Johnston. “COVID has been so hard on everybody and over the past year throughout our firehall with COVID it’s been tough to have things that bring us together because firefighting is based on a brother/ sisterhood. This is going to be a great reason for us to come together for something for the greater good.”
The SPL firefighters and joining community members began their walk at 10 a.m. Jan. 30, starting at the west end inlet creek and followed the south shore around the lake to end at Ma-Me-O beach. They reached the end of the walk at approximately 3:00 p.m.
A fundraiser Facebook page, Wayne Benson Benefit, was created for the walk where all proceeds will be donated to the Bensons in addition to the collections from the day of the walk.
The SPL side-by-side followed alongside the walkers taking donations at their break stops, including Grandview. SPL fire team members also met up at the stops with a donation boot for collections.
Following the walk Johnston said that they had raised $5,480 and counting for Wayne.
Faye says that this fundraiser will help tremendously as they are still paying their bills at home as well as the additional $1,500 a month to stay in Calgary for Wayne’s treatment. “Without them things would have been pretty tight,” she says.
To Wayne and Faye, this walk means so much.
“It is overwhelming, the support that he’s got,” Faye says about the hall and community support they have been receiving. “It’s absolutely amazing.”
“It’s really hard to put in words how much it means to us. It’s so uplifting, it makes such a difference. You don’t feel like you are going through it alone,” Faye says.
Wayne and Faye even joined in on the walk via Facetime at various points to say hi to those spending their day walking across the ice in support of them.
Faye said that the walk has only boosted Wayne’s already positive attitude.
“Wayne’s positive attitude is absolutely amazing. I don’t know that I could have done it the way that he has,” Faye says. “I don’t know where he gets his strength.”
It will be at least six months to a year before Wayne will be able to jump back in action with SPL fire. However, “he is improving every day,” says Faye, and she knows that as soon as he is given the all clear by his doctors, he will be back in his fire boots and ready to keep his community safe once again.