Hannah Benkel

When 15-year-old Hannah Benkel was admitted to the hospital in March to begin treatment for leukemia, one of the first things she noticed was the tissues.

“When she was admitted obviously she had cancer but she also had a sinus infection and mono so her nose was running,” said Andrea Benkel, Hannah’s mother. “She kept asking for a Kleenex and they brought her some and she just said, ‘Mom these are awful.’ She couldn’t stop crying but didn’t want to blow her nose because they hurt so much.”

The quality of the tissues came as a shock to Hannah. Everything else at Phoenix Children’s Hospital had been great for the family. The rooms were comfortable, the nurses and doctors were kind and understanding, the food was good.

Why couldn’t the tissues be a little better?

Hannah had an outpouring of support from the community when she was diagnosed. As her body began to respond to treatment Hannah began to look forward and decided she wanted to find a way to give back. Those rough tissues came to mind.

“Even with everything that was happening she certainly had a depth of understanding about how lucky she was to have good medical care, and to have health insurance, and to have a support system unlike anybody else,” Andrea said. “She said she just wished she could put a decent box of tissues in everybody’s room. It’s rough enough being in the hospital that nobody should have to wipe their tears with a scratchy tissue.”

The Benkels began to formulate a plan. With the help of many close friends they created Hankies For Hannah to collect quality tissues to go to Phoenix Children’s Hospital.

On Aug. 24-26 Hankies For Hannah will host its first official drive. Three Sports Clips locations in Ahwatukee and Chandler will be collecting tissues.

They’ll also donate $1 from each hair cut to Hankies for Hannah and $10 from each buzzed head. Amy Boyce, Sports Clips team leader and friend of the family, said the idea for the tissue drive just seemed like a good fit for Sports Clips.

“I feel that Sports Clips is a tool,” Boyce said. “I feel very lucky to be able to stay home with my children and it feeds my family, but at the same time it’s great to use it to help others in the community. It’s a wonderful culture within the four walls and to be able to share that with someone who wants to have the same goals seems to be a perfect match.”

Through a YouTube video Hannah said all the money collected will not be going toward her own hospital bills. She plans to use the donations to purchase tissues and once the hospital’s limited storage is full the leftover money will be donated to the hospital.

Hannah hopes this weekend’s event is the first of many. On the video she expressed plans to make more YouTube videos to answer questions about having leukemia, continue writing on a blog, and maybe even one day writing a book about her experience.

“Something that started as a sniffle for her ended up being something so much bigger,” Andrea said. “It was an accumulation of so many things little and big that made it bearable... There are so many parts of a whole that can take you down but there are so many more little things that can lift you up. She wants to be a part of that uplifting.”

Hannah is still undergoing treatment and taking things day by day. Ideally, she has one more round of chemo therapy and hopes to be in remission by Thanksgiving.

Her mom says she’s counting down the days until she can get back to playing volleyball at Corona del Sol High School.

“She’s a New Year’s girl,” Andrea said. “You think about all the optimism and all the hope that is a part of New Year’s Eve. People are always looking forward and are positive. She was born on New Year’s Eve. Maybe that’s just a part of the karma that surrounds her. She’s always so positive, and optimistic, and looking ahead. She doesn’t tackle anything without a very sincere belief that she will make it happen. Conquering cancer and then giving back. As a parent you hope that your children will be happy and will make the most of what they have in life, and I couldn’t ask for more.”

For more information on Hankies for Hannah, view their video on YouTube at http://bit.ly/RW2gpC.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or ahurtado@ahwatukee.com

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