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Adams Center teen cancer patient awaits stem cell transplant

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Instead of graduating from high school, 17-year-old Benjamin R. Towles is preparing for a stem cell transplant.

He’s missed his senior prom at South Jefferson Central High School, and he hasn’t seen many family members and friends in months. Cancer — diffuse large B-cell non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, stage 3 — has become his life for now.

“I’m a teenager; I shouldn’t be in a bed all day,” he said in an email conversation from the hospital last week. “I should be out making bad decisions and having a fun time doing it. But instead, my life’s on hold.”

“My doctors are great, and the nurses are hot, but not even beautiful nurses can numb the pain of having a piece of tubing jammed through my chest.”

For the past three months, Ben, of Adams Center, has called the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Pa., home. He had surgery there March 18 to repair two collapses of his lung, which was infected. His mother, Michelle R. Reff, said that since the surgery, an air leak has prevented her son from having the necessary stem cell transplant.

The air leak should fix on its own, but if it’s not repaired soon, Ben will need another surgery to fix the small hole, which could push the stem cell transplant back further.

“The transplant is the only hope for a cure,” Mrs. Reff said.

Ben said the past couple of years have been rough. About two years ago he found out he had cancer, then it was in remission and it returned in January. This was to be his senior year of high school, but he has missed much of it because of illness. He’s often tired and weak, but he tries not to give up hope. Strength comes from the number of relatives and friends who have supported him throughout his struggles.

Sunday was no exception as hundreds gathered at the Watertown Elks Lodge, Bradley Street, for the “Believe in Ben” benefit, put on by stepgrandparents Nick and JoAnn Reff. Proceeds will go toward medical expenses not covered under the insurance of Ben’s father, Robert R. Towles. Donations also will help with transportation to and from Pennsylvania.

Aside from an admission fee to the benefit, there was a silent auction and 50/50 raffles. Entertainment included live music and a disc jockey. Table decorations and even many attendees’ clothing were lime green, the color of the lymphoma awareness ribbon.

“I have so many cards to open, and thank you for all the love and support from everybody,” said the young man, who will turn 18 on Thursday. “It makes my day better than unbearable.”

He said he could not get by without the support system of his mother; stepfather, Joseph Reff; brother, Jaycee Reff; friend Linda J. Welsh and her family and other family and friends. Mrs. Welsh brought him more than 300 birthday cards last week when he was still in Pennsylvania.

He was able to come home for the benefit and his birthday, but will have to return to Pennsylvania on June 12. That’s when his stem cell transplant is scheduled to begin. The entire transplant process will take up to eight weeks. Then, Ben will be able to go home for two months, but will have to be kept in strict isolation as a medical precaution. He then will head back to Pennsylvania for a month of outpatient radiation.

A few days back home is what Mrs. Reff said her son needed to build up his confidence for the next step of his cancer struggle.

Ben said he hopes good days are around the corner.

“I’m ready to go to the beach, so this whole cancer thing ain’t gonna work out,” he said.

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