Press Article October 20, 2010

DOCUMENTING A SHORT LIFE

A mother carries on a college student’s project on living with cancer

By Dave Eisenstadter
Sentinel Staff

Published: Wednesday, October 20, 2010 12:08 PM EDT

Silas R. “Sy” Bennett was covering elections for KSC-TV News when he was diagnosed with late-stage cancer in October of 2007.

For the next seven months, camera in hand, he covered a different story: his own struggle against disease.

Now, after his death in 2008, his footage and photography are being used to promote a fund to help young people find ways to cope with terminal and serious disease. It’s called Sy’s Fund.

Sy’s Fund is for people ages 18 through 39 with cancer, and funds personal pursuits and passions they have unrelated to their disease.

“You can’t get away from cancer, but this is to help them make their days easier,” said Lorraine E. Kerz, Sy’s mother, who put the fund together.

In September, she finished a short documentary from her son’s footage, called “The Man Behind Sy’s Fund.” (The video is posted online at www.vimeo.com/15966121.)

“I’ve got a growth on my C4 vertebrae, and I don’t even know how to deal with it,” Bennett says in the opening of the video. “I felt like I was getting old, but didn’t feel I was old enough for cancer.”

As Bennett progressed through his cancer treatment, the journalism major at Keene State kept his camera handy, at first creating footage of himself reporting on his progress with the disease, and eventually getting a still camera and taking photos of the world around him.

Rather than lying in bed after surgeries or chemo treatments, Bennett would ask his family to take him out in a wheelchair with his camera. He took photos and spent a lot of time editing them, according to Kerz.

“He didn’t want to talk about cancer; he didn’t want to be ‘Silas with cancer,’ ” she said. “Patients want to be known as who they are and yet they are losing their hair and going through treatments and not looking like the same person they were.”

Kerz had trouble looking through the photos and footage, but realized she could use it to help others in her son’s situation.

“I came to realize that if Silas had the courage to do this as a journalist, I felt that I could put this documentary together to show the world how this young man handled himself and how he handled life,” Kerz said.

For people in her son’s age group, who are not usually required to contemplate their own mortality, Kerz said keeping up with their passions as Bennett did is important therapy.

“This happens, and it happens to young people,” Kerz said. “It’s one of the most difficult things you can imagine.”

Administering the fund is therapeutic for Kerz, as well.

“Sy’s Fund for me is a purpose, a way for me to stay grounded on the Earth while I’m here,” Kerz said. “That is something that helps me get through the days. I miss my son terribly.”

In addition to administering the fund, Kerz also runs a grief support group for parents who have lost adult or teen children to accidents, disease and suicide.

“A mom can be in her 70s and the grief is still as intense, regardless of what the cause of death was,” Kerz said.

Kimberley R. Diemond is president of another organization, Joy’s Network, which offers support to cancer patients and their families in the Monadnock Region. She founded the organization in January after her mother, Joy, died of cancer.

She also runs a cancer discussion group Wednesday evenings at Cheshire Medical Center/Dartmouth-Hitchcock Keene.

Diemond agreed keeping passions alive for patients with cancer is important.

“Having a positive attitude and being realistic yet hopeful is the most important thing for patients,” Diemond said. “So is treating each day like a special gift and living the most you can in that minute.”

Having a disease like cancer can make a patient feel helpless, Diemond said, so having an empowering activity is important.

“If there is something you can still do it just helps to keep your strength going, and help feel like you’re still part of the bigger picture, part of your community,” Diemond said.

Information on Sy’s Fund, a 501(c)3 organization, is available at www.sysfund.org. Kerz said she is looking not only for donations, but for people the fund can help.

Kerz hopes that keeping passion alive for those with cancer can help them fight the disease with as much fervor as her son.

“He was a warrior. That’s the word I would use to describe my son.”

Dave Eisenstadter can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1432, or deisenstadter@keenesentinel.com

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