Cancer has been a part of Leah and Ben Smith’s lives for their entire relationship. Ben was 14 when his dad passed away after a year-long battle with colon cancer. A decade later, his 57-year-old mother was diagnosed with brain cancer – right after his engagement to Leah.
Ben cared for his mother as she fought, and after their wedding, Leah & Ben took on the responsibility together. “I got really lucky to have married Leah,” Ben says. “We were newlyweds, but Leah was adamant that we were the right people to take care of mom.”
From 2015-2019, they were primary caregivers. At that time, they also welcomed two children and began building their business Smith & Smith Realty Group. Caregiving and its emotional toll defined the early years of early marriage. “You’d pick it a thousand times, but it can be frustrating.”
The pair wanted to get more involved with their community in a more active way and their research brought them to Cancer Hope Network. They knew immediately they’d found a cause to rally for. “You just feel kind of alone in the process (of caregiving),” Ben said. “Your friends don’t get it. Even families can struggle to understand the challenges of caring for a loved one 24/7. You are a caregiver and also a new parent. It was like: wait a minute. You can get paired up with someone who knows what it’s like to be a caregiver. Or someone for my mom to connect with? This is amazing!”
That find led to the first-ever Step on Cancer walk held in downtown Merchantville earlier this year. They planned quickly, learning the ropes of fundraising and permits and promotional challenges as they went. “It was kind of nerve-wracking hosting our first event,” Leah recalls. “But as we saw people start pouring in, it was incredible. We’re grateful to our personal community for coming out – and it was exciting to see people who’d found us online and through promotions.”
They handed out rally towels for the attendees to write the names of loved ones they were walking for, with walkers. For some attendees, the event was the first opportunity to see the historic town up close. For others, it was an opportunity to enjoy the delicious flavors of A & J Food Services. For all, it was a chance to remember loved ones lost too soon and celebrate survivors and caregivers still with us.
“We are grateful to Ben, Leah, and the Smith & Smith Realty Group for helping increase awareness of the need for and availability of peer support,” said CHN Associate Director of Special Events, Randibeth Gallant. “The funds they raised will help ensure no one faces cancer alone. We look forward to joining the fun at next year’s walk.”