CLAYTON, N.C. (WNCN) — As we head into the holiday season, two local school teachers and their daughter are grateful for a supportive community, as their family fights their third major medical battle.
Smiling and silly, the Bengtson family photos are full of joy — but beyond the smiles, you can catch a glimpse of the struggles they never imagined facing.
Several years ago, Dana Bengtson started getting severe headaches.
“I was diagnosed with Chiari malformation, and a way to correct that is by having brain surgery,” she explained.
Recovery from that brain surgery took a year and a half.
“Having to go through something so painful for so long was very, very hard,” Bengtson added.
With the help of her husband Kris Bengtson, Dana got through it, and soon after, they celebrated the birth of their daughter, Julia.
“In the first year of Julia’s life, that’s when I got cancer,” said father Kris. “They took out a 4-centimeter tumor in my trachea, which they said at the time was the largest tracheal tumor they have ever taken out at UNC.”
The cancer was stage 4, but thankfully treatment worked.
“They say I’m a walking miracle,” Kris said.
For a few years, the family seemed healthy, but in October they were back in the hospital, where doctors diagnosed now-5-year-old Julia with leukemia.
“We both just looked at each other and we basically said, ‘How can this keep happening to our family?’ It doesn’t make any sense,” recalled Kris. “Hearing the C-word, the cancer word, for your 5-year-old is earth-shattering, absolutely earth-shattering.”
Kris is a Wake County teacher, and Dana teaches in Johnston County but is currently taking unpaid leave to care for Julia.
They say their schools have been incredibly supportive and other friends and family have held fundraisers and started a GoFundMe page to help them with medical bills.
Their struggles through the years have shown these two teachers that their family never fights alone.
“We’ve learned in all of them that we have a huge community of people that love us,” said Kris, adding that one day they hope to help someone else.
“Even strangers have stepped up,” the family said. “We’d like to, at least, pay that forward.”