Stephanie Bennett started playing softball in the fourth grade and hasn't stopped since. The Fenton sophomore doesn't hesitate to call her teammates "like my family."
Especially this year, Stephanie doesn't take her love for the game or the value of her friendships for granted.
On Jan. 14 Stephanie was diagnosed with multiple endocrine neoplasia type 2 (MEN2A), a rare hereditary cancer syndrome affecting about 1 in 30,000 people. It is associated with the development of medullary cancer of the thyroid, tumors of the adrenal gland and neuroendocrine tissues and other abnormal growths of endocrine tissues. It is far rarer than thyroid cancer, which is relatively common in adults.
It is not uncommon for several family members to be affected with MEN2A. Stephanie's mom, Jane Bennett, was the first in their family diagnosed with MEN2A, in November 2010 while at the Mayo Clinic with older daughter Christine getting treatment for an unrelated condition.
Suspecting it could be genetic, Stephanie was tested as were Christine and their brother Tim. An ultrasound and blood test confirmed that Stephanie and Christine had MEN2A. Later it was discovered that Stephanie's aunt and two of Jane's cousins also were affected. Just this week Jane's other first cousin called her with the news that he too was diagnosed with MEN2A.
"I couldn't believe it happened," Stephanie said. "I wanted to go back to normal."
Fortunately, because Stephanie is young, she will go to Mayo in June and have her thyroid removed. She will go on a monitoring program and take a hormone replacement every day that doubles as her thyroid. Even more good news was she was cleared to play softball this spring.
One of her most immediate reactions to the news of her condition was "Somebody's gotta call (Fenton coach Dave) Mello."
Telling her teammates was one of Stephanie's biggest challenges. It turns out, they have been a huge support to a 15-year-old girl in a tough time.
"Not a week goes by that they don't ask how things are," Stephanie said. "I'm fortunate to have friends like that."
Physically, Stephanie said she is fine. Day-to-day the cancer doesn't bother her at all. In the case of Jane, the cancer has spread to her lymph node. It doesn't respond to chemotherapy or radiation. All she can do is be tested every 2-3 months and see where it grows and perhaps go in aggressively to take it out.
Early detection is critical. Doctors recommend that children whose family is found to have the genetic mutation have their thyroid removed by age 5.
Stephanie will never be considered cancer-free, but her early diagnosis keeps the Bennetts one step ahead.
"The positive thing is we're smarter now," Jane said. "Now we can do all the prevention to intervene and be in front of the cancer, as opposed to being behind."
Last Thursday against Ridgewood, Stephanie slammed her first grand slam to snap a 1-1 tie in a game Fenton won 9-6.
Next Thursday the Bison are hosting a home run of an event inspired by Stephanie.
A home game against Glenbard South will double as a Coaches vs. Cancer event, with all money going toward the American Cancer Society. Donations will be accepted at the event and people can also text in donations.
Stephanie hasn't let the cancer stop her from "acting normal" this spring, going to school and practice with people she calls "some of the greatest friends and greatest coaches."
"You gotta know Stephanie. Nothing is going to get her down," Jane said. "She is always positive, always a forward-moving kind of girl."