Wendy Bennion doesn't talk much about herself and her four-year battle with bone and lung cancer. It seems she'd rather speak of those with whom she visits in hospitals and whose lives she strives to brighten - those she says are in worse circumstances.
But Wendy's friends and loved ones are not hesitant to talk about her and the example she sets of looking beyond her own suffering to the needs of others. In fact, more than 100 friends and family members were present during a surprise ceremony Feb. 23 when the 18-year-old was presented with Salt Lake County's Service to the Community Award for 1994 during a county commission meeting in Salt Lake City. (Please see Dec. 14, 1991, Church News for feature article on Wendy.)The commissioners presented Wendy, a member of the Union 21st Ward, Sandy Utah Cottonwood Creek Stake, with a certificate honoring her for exhibiting "outstanding courage and dedication to the principles of service during the past several years."
During the award ceremony, Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen, who is a Bennion family friend, and Phil Riesen, an anchorman on KUTV Channel 2 in Salt Lake City, paid tribute to Wendy.
The county clerk said Wendy's battle with reoccurring cancer "isn't so unique, but the way Wendy has dealt with her illness is - her courage to face things most adults will never have to deal with, her positive attitude in fighting this insidious disease, her unshakable faith in her Heavenly Father, her concern and dedication to helping others, and her giving of herself."
Riesen told the audience: "There is so much talk these days about gang violence and the hopelessness that seems to invade young lives. It's refreshing to see someone like Wendy Bennion who exemplifies the opposite end of that spectrum."
Since Wendy was a little girl - long before her own illnesses - she has been sensitive to the needs of others and found an outlet for that sensitivity through community service. Through the years, she has visited sick children at Primary Children's Medical Center in Salt Lake City and helped with various fund-raising projects. Since 1983, she has helped her mother and sisters decorate trees for Salt Lake City's annual Festival of Trees, which helps raise money for Primary Children's Medical Center.
In May 1990, Wendy was diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma, a form of bone cancer. In December 1992, she was diagnosed with lung cancer, which reoccurred in December 1993. During the last four years, the young woman has had five surgeries and 25 sessions of chemotherapy.
Despite her illnesses, Wendy keeps pushing forward. Among her achievements is a fourth place national award for community awareness in a Hospital Occupation Students of America contest.
Wendy intends to pursue a career in working with ill children.
Wendy's mother, Nancy, said her daughter has "accomplished in 18 years what many of us would never accomplish in a lifetime. She has a great love for her Heavenly Father, and she feels the need to show that love by helping those who are perhaps in more difficult circumstances than she is.""
After receiving the award, Wendy told the Church News: "I just like to cheer people up because I know what it feels like to have someone come up to you and cheer you up. Helping others helps me to put things in perspective because I see kids who are so sick, and this helps me to realize I'm not so sick."
Wendy's example to others was perhaps best put into words by a close friend, Brittny Smith, who was at the award ceremony: "If she can do under her circumstances what she does, then I should be able to live my life to the fullest."