Benjamin Lemke aka Benjamin Bradley, is a Gay Icon whom I personally wanted to be like when I started my quest in the community. When I became aware of his health battles, I followed him on social media closely for a year to keep updated on his progress. When I started my site, Benjamin was one of the people I wanted to reach out to first. What I didn’t envision was that after reaching out, he would become one of my favorite people to communicate with. Benjamin is one of the most inspiring, articulate and spiritually in-tune humans on this earth. I am so honored to share his story, and in full detail as told by him on my site. Grab some coffee & snacks and get to know Benjamin Lemke…..
🎶 I think I’ll find another way…
🍂This Used To Be My Playground🍂
”I was born in 1982. My sun sign is Pisces, and my moon sign is Gemini. I grew up 2 hours north of Seattle, in a big loving Mormon family, being the 2nd oldest of 5 siblings. I came “out”when I was a senior in high school which allowed me to become very comfortable in my own skin. I graduated Highschool in 2000 and got 2 scholarships for college which I used towards a degree in graphic design.
In 2004, I met and fell in love with an adult model Garrett, who went by the name of Roman Heart. We both grew up in the Pacific Northwest, only living about 2 hours apart. We met through mutual friends. He was only 18, and I was 22 when we started dating, both babies! He introduced me to the biz, asking me to film with him in 2005 when his original scene partner had backed out at the last minute. It came at a very convenient time, as I was drowning in debt. So I jumped at the offer (really a win/win situation) and thoroughly enjoyed it.
I continued working in the biz for the next 6 years. I signed a contract with Chi Chi LaRue’s company Channel One Releasing, as a Rascal Exclusive. Working for Chi Chi, who I love, was fantastic. It opened a lot of doors for me like world–wide club/go–go dancing appearances. I got to meet so many fascinating and amazing individuals. I also got to travel the world extensively. In 2007 I became an exclusive spokesmodel for the fun and playful underwear company Ginch Gonch. Throughout my modeling career, I also worked for many other awesome companies like Falcon, Colt, Jet Set Men, and Randy Blue.
In 2010 I was living in Las Vegas, and started working for QVegas Magazine, as the Creative Coordinator. Within a few months I worked my way up to Editor and Creative Director. My creative and original designs won QVegas their very first MAGGIES award in their 30+ years of existence. At this point, I retired from the modeling world completely to focus 100% on my design/professional career. By this time Garrett and I had also parted ways, but still remained friends with a lot of love for each other.”
🍂Live To Tell🍂
“The summer of 2016, I began having pains in my stomach one day. After a few hours, the pain was pretty intense, so I checked myself into the ER. After a couple scans, the doctor told me that I had a few ulcers in my stomach. He sent me home with a print out of what ulcers are, and how to care for them. Everything seemed fine for the next three months, but at the end of October 2016, severe pains returned to my abdomen, which led to another ER visit where they scanned my body again, but this time, they realized that I had cancer. I was diagnosed with High Grade B Cell Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. They discovered that 12 inches of my small intestines were literally being eaten by the cancer, creating many holes within it, allowing infection to spread in my entire abdominal cavity. Within just a short time at the ER, the doctors told me they needed to operate immediately, and prepped me for surgery.”
“It was all a blur initially. It just happened so fast. Within 24 hours, I went from being incredibly fit and feeling healthy, to waking up after surgery the next morning with my entire frontstomach stappled, and 12 inches of my intestines removed. It didn’t sink in for a bit. I was definitely shocked by my diagnosis, but I had a feeling that everything happens for a reason, and that I would ultimately be ok. The team of doctors that had operated on me, told me that the cancer was very localized, and they cut it all out. They advised chemotherapy just to be safe. At the time, I rejected chemotherapy, and began trying to heal naturally.”
🍂Open Your Heart🍂
“Initially I was healing fine. My stomach felt pretty much back to normal after a couple of months, And I loved my new scar, which starts below my belly button and runs straight up the middle of my stomach. In January of 2017, I went on this fantastic 2 month ‘spiritual healing’ road trip, where a good friend and I drove from Birch Bay Washington, which is right at the Canadian border, all the way down to San Diego California while hitting up several locations that are known for their metaphysical energy. Activities included things like bathing in the mineral rich springs on Mt. Shasta, and meditating on cliffs in Sedona Arizona. I also participated in ancient Amazonian healing rituals like Ayahuasca and Kambo ceremonies, which I recommend only to people who are committed to deep spiritual healing. The entire road trip was life changing and very surreal. Something that could be made into a really cool movie.”
“After the road trip. I relocated to Vista California, which is about 30 minutes north of San Diego, and was very excited to restart my life. However, by May of 2017, I noticed a lump on my neck, that grew into the size of a golf ball within 4 weeks. At the same time, I developed severe pain in my right shoulder and lower back. The pain got so bad that the only relief I got was from sitting on the floor of my shower, and letting scalding hot water pour down my right side. I did this for hours every day, even falling asleep on the shower floor at times. Eventually my parents flew to California to take care of me. I was in and out of consciousness from the pain, and I have brief and cloudy memories of being spoon fed meals by my mother. My parents finally got me checked into the Moores Cancer Center in San Diego, where I was not only re-diagnosed with the same high-grade B cell lymphoma, now stage 4, but they also discovered that several tumors had grown in my lungs, shoulders and back, which had been the cause of all the pain.
At this point, I was in so much pain that seconds seemed like hours. I would rock myself back and forth moaning, sometimes even screaming, not knowing how else to rid myself of this pain. The doctors gave me pain medication, but nothing worked. For a few days, I felt very hopeless. With that kind of pain, your mind doesn’t think clearly and rationally. Finally, I was put on a morphine drip, where every 10 minutes I’d receive a new dose at the push of a button. At last! I could rest. I could breathe. I could reflect on what was happening.
My world was turned upside down, again, even more so. I needed to do something drastic if I wanted to stay alive, and to do it very quickly. I started chemotherapy immediately. Within 5 days, the tumor on my neck began to visibly shrink. Now that the pain was under control and the tumors had begun shrinking, my hope began to rise.”
🍂Like A Prayer🍂
“I began chemotherapy in San Diego, July of 2017, and my specific regimen was called R-CHOP, which is an acronym for 5 drugs used: Rituximab, Cyclophosphamide, Doxorubicin, Vincristine, and Prednisone. Initially, my body’s reaction to the chemotherapy was just nausea. I vomited every few hours. I started taking medication to prevent the nausea, and that worked really well to keep myself from throwing up all the time. Eventually, the hardcore vomiting sessions were reduced to only every few days. By the end of August, I had lost all my hair. It just started falling out in chunks. So I shaved it. At first, I felt bad-ass with a shaved head, like ‘thug life Benjamin’. But then I lost my eye brows, my eye lashes, and then every single hair on my body from head to toe, fell out within a week. I looked like a skinny 9 year old boy again. I also lost 40 lbs. I started at 180and went all the way down to 137 lbs at my lowest. By this time, I felt like an alien. I didn’t recognize myself in the mirror. I didn’t recognize my body in any capacity. I soon became incredibly weak. I couldn’t even walk slowly around the block without feeling exhausted and winded. Also, I would wake up at night every 2 hours drenched in sweat. Eventually I would require at least 6 bath towels each night to keep myself dry.
One time, after an intrathecal chemotherapy session (where they inject the chemo into your spine) the hole in my spine (from the injection needle) didn’t heal immediately, causing my spinal fluid to leak, which resulted in the fluid in my brain to leak as well. I can’t begin to articulate how painful that was. It resulted in severe vomiting attacks at anytime I sat up, and the extreme pounding in my head I felt like I was being murdered by a sledge hammer. It lasted for days, and there were times when I questioned if death would be a better option.
Even though I knew that the chemo was successfully killing the cancer, it was hard to feel happy in the moment, because the chemotherapy almost killed me in the process. I had to really go deep within, and re-learn how to love myself, especially now without an aesthetically pleasing physical shell that I was so used to relying on for my confidence.
When the possibility of death is right around the corner, the loneliness can be overwhelming. Yes, the loneliness of being so close to death was even harder than the worst physical pain. No one else was dying with me, and that thought made me very sad. Not that I wanted someone else to literally die as well. I just felt so alone at night by myself, so weak, so unrecognizable. I felt like a waste of human potential, while the rest of the world around me thrived. It ultimately forced me to look deep into my own spirituality. I’m not referring to religion or dogma, but my own personal spirituality. I examined a lot of things that most young healthy adults rarely think about and take for granted. Eventually I came to the conclusion that there is nothing but love waiting on the other side, whether I was heading there soon, or as a 95 year old man one day.
By October 2017, I begun to notice I didn’t have feeling in my feet anymore, especially my toes. I could no longer run. It was if my body forgot how. Have you ever had a dream where you wanted to run really fast, but no matter how hard you try, your feet just won’t move fast, as if they are stuck in molasses? Well that’s what I felt like just trying to jog or even walk fast. It became impossible. I also began losing feeling in my fingers, and that’s when I really got sad and scared. As an artist, I need my fingers to work. I couldn’t imagine a world where I couldn’t draw, paint, or even use my computer keyboard. The condition that I was developing is called chemotherapy induced neuropathy – which is basically nerve damage, that sometimescannot be reversed. At my request, my Oncologist took me off one of the chemo drug Vincristine, which was the main culprit of the developing neuropathy.”
“My chemotherapy regimen took 6 months total. My last treatment ended a week before Christmas 2017. The results of my final PET Scan showed that I was officially cancer free! It felt really good to hear those words. I honestly don’t think my body could have handled many more chemotherapy treatments. It had successfully killed the cancer, but had almost killed me in the process.
I have gained back all the feeling in my hands and fingers! My artistic abilities never truly suffered. My feet still have numbness, but I’m currently in physical therapy, and working towards a full recovery. Even though I have gratefully overcome so much, and feel truly blessed on every level, I recently discovered that only half the battle was over. Weening off pain medication would be the next excruciating hurdle.
From the very beginning of my cancer journey, because of the severity of the pain, for a period of more than 8 months I was on a daily supply of morphine. I was fully aware that pain medication is habit forming, but developing a chemical dependence was almost impossible for me to avoid.”
🍂Into The Groove🍂
“I can definitely work out, but it’s been a really hard battle to get back into a full-time fitness regimen. The withdrawal symptoms from weening off the daily morphine has been a very long and painful process. Finding the energy to even get out of bed some mornings is almost impossible, and especially at the beginning of the weening off process, my moods got severely low, to a point of real concern. I’ve had to fight suicidal depression each time I lowered my morphine dose. I now have a new compassion for anyone dealing with a chemical dependency, and a new respect for people who are successful recovering addicts. They deserve a gold medal for their courage and strength. Because it’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. The good news is that I’m almost completely done! It’s taken me 6 months to get to this new finish line. But the bad news is that I used food for comfort during most of the weening off process. Ice cream and carbs were the only things that helped me feel good. I’m really happy that I quickly gained back all the weight that chemo took from me, but I’ve also put on about 15 extra pounds of flab! It’s kind of fun because I’ve never really jiggled before, until now.
I do have plans to get back into the best shape of my life. I’m starting fall quarter at WWU in just a few days, to finish my BA in graphic design and minor in music production. WWU has an amazing fitness center, and I plan to be all up in their gym space at every waking hour that I’m not in class or doing homework. I’m also currently on a strict detoxing plan that involves only veggies, lean meats, and some fruits, and tons of water.”
“I am very lucky because I have the BEST support system anybody could wish for. My mother and father are my best friends. They both took turns dropping everything in their lives to help me. They spent weeks by my side during all my hospital stays. They packed and moved all my stuff half way across the country for me. They cooked for me, cleaned for me, laughed with me, and cried with me. My mother and my father are my angels sent from above. I would not be alive today without their love. My brother and sisters were very supportive too, as well as my good friends and my extended family. I love them all from the bottom of my heart. A “Go-Fund-Me” account was set up on my behalf, and the amount of friends and even strangers that donated was astounding. It was a love attack on all fronts, and my heart was completely overwhelmed. The funding helped pay for my move back home, for some of my cancer treatment, as well as healthy natural supplements. All the love I received gaveme even more reason to fight for my life and beat cancer.
Also, funnily enough, YouTube really helped me get to get through my chemotherapy journey. I would fall asleep every night watching documentary after documentary. It was like my bedtime story each night, and kept me from feeling so lonely in the late hours of the night. I would study up on things I always wanted to learn more about. I’m a huge truth seeker, so I loved all the extra time I had to dive really deep into the rabbit hole of how corrupt this world is, and also the true magic of our human existence. I’ve learned so much about myself, and who I am. I forgave myself for a lot of things in my past, and forgave those who had hurt me. I think this step was crucial in healing my cancer.
At my darkest times, when I felt like I was on my death bed(which was several times in the last two years) one prevailing thought really got to me. I was severely disappointed with myself for not spending more time creating art and more beauty to leave behind in this world. I felt like I had wasted so much of my time doing trivial things. One of the things that helped me get through the endless hours of bed rest, was my art tablet (a Wacam MobilePro 16 which I highly recommend for any healing artist.) I promised the universe that moving forward I would commit myself to creating beauty and joy in every possible moment. I began working on digital paintings for friends and family. I’ve created more art in the last year, than I had previously in my 36 years of existence.
I have so many exciting plans for my future! I feel like I got a second chance at life. In many ways, getting cancer was a blessing in disguise. I learned so much about myself, and about life. I experienced so much love while I was sick and healing that no matter how much longer I have left here on this earth,whether it’s only 1 year or another 36, I already feel like I’ve won.”
…It’s not my time to go 🎶
TheLeeGonzalez would like to thank Benjamin for graciously sharing his story with us and our readers. We wish you all the best in your future endeavors.