In life, Michelle Benaim was a tireless supporter of those in need. And even after her death to young-onset colorectal cancer, her generous spirit lives on with the Michelle Benaim Memorial Fund. The fund recently reached a major milestone, raising $1 million for programs to turn the family’s dream of a world free of colorectal cancer into a reality.
“It’s amazing,” said Michelle’s daughter, Sophia, 15. “The Fund makes her legacy live on. All my mom did with most of her life is help people who needed it, and the fact we hit a million dollars just shows how big of an impact we can make. And we’re not done yet.”
The Fund has largely been supported by Michelle’s friends and family, including Alliance Board of Directors member Avi Benaim, Michelle’s husband. In speaking about the Fund at the 2019 Blue Hope Bash, Avi shared the hopeful spirit with which his family established the Fund.
“Even though my kids and I have experienced the ultimate heartache caused by this terrible disease, we have hope,” he said. “The Fund will help turn our hopes for a world free of colorectal cancer into a reality. In that world, there is no pain, no suffering, no loss, and no children who miss out on having their mom by their side as they grow into adulthood.”
Sophia and Michelle Benaim
The Fund has several goals, which are already being realized. A 2021 impact report details the Fund’s goals and investments so far, including support to:
Multifaceted national campaigns to raise awareness of this disease, including the March 2019 “Don’t Assume” Awareness Campaign, with an estimated 8,763,062 impressions in the D.C. area; March 2020 “Tomorrow Can’t Wait” Awareness Campaign; and the 2021 Screening During COVID-19 Campaign
Screening assistance, including 151 colonoscopy screenings for individuals in need in 2019 and 2020, including covering the costs for pre-appointment COVID-19 testing
New research led by Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s Kimmie Ng, MD, MPH, investigating how the microbiome plays a role in young-onset colorectal cancer.
And — as imagined by Michelle’s children Sophia, Alex, and Sam — bags for chemotherapy patients to provide comfort and care, including socks, a blanket, and soft gloves that the kids helped design.
“We just recently did our first delivery at the Aquilino Cancer Center,” Sophia said. “My mom got her chemo there, too, so it was amazing to see where my mom was and how she was so well taken care of. And from what we saw, all the patients loved them.”
A Lasting Legacy
The Benaim Family
Michelle was diagnosed with colorectal cancer as Alex Benaim, now 20, was entering his freshman year of high school. Looking at the funds raised so far, he experiences some disbelief.
“We started this because my mom was always dedicated to community service in everything she did,” Alex said. “I just couldn’t imagine that we’ve gone this far and raised this much money. I could see my mom doing it, but not us as a family.”
Michelle met Avi at a philanthropic event she organized. They were married in 1998 and had three children. After Michelle was diagnosed with colorectal cancer, the couple immediately got involved with the Alliance by spreading awareness, raising money, and serving as the co-chairs of the Alliance’s largest fundraiser, the Blue Hope Bash, even through Michelle’s sickness.
She passed away on September 30, 2017, just before the event came to fruition. Her death inspired hundreds to join the Alliance’s mission to end this disease, including by donating to the Fund in her honor and continuing as instrumental leaders of the Bash.
“Being able to see how much of a legacy my mom left behind is inspiring for me and my brothers,” Sophia said. “We just want to do exactly what she did, and make sure we leave a footprint just like she did.”
Supporting the Fund
The Alliance is grateful to all those who loved Michelle Benaim and continue to fund the work of the Colorectal Cancer Alliance in her memory. In 2021, the Michelle Benaim Memorial Fund will focus on two key areas:
Awareness of colorectal cancer and the importance of screening in prevention and early detection to increase positive outcomes; funding for national awareness campaigns, with 50% allocated in the Washington, DC metro area
Screening financial assistance for underserved populations across the country, with 50% earmarked for those living in the Washington, DC metro area
To learn more and donate to the Michelle Benaim Memorial Fund, click here.
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