This is the story of two friends who came together when life dealt a difficult hand. One a Lambda Chi, the other not. What brought them closer together was a phone call that would change one of their lives forever and form an unbreakable bond between the two.
Ben Conner and Sam Beger met during their first year of medical school at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix. In addition to being classmates, the two were also roommates and became fast friends. During the spring of their first year of school, Ben received a call from his brother, Casey. He was not feeling like himself, and some of his blood tests had come back with suspicious results.
A senior at Penn State at the time, Casey’s mind was anywhere but the hospital where he was put through test after test. He was graduating soon, so this must just be a blip on the radar. As a med student, though, Conner knew that abnormal blood tests could mean many things, but he chose to remain positive.
“I remember being on the phone with Casey, and you could really hear worry in his voice as he asked how serious it was,” said Conner.
Casey was a healthy, fit young man with no history of cancer in the family, so Conner and his family remained optimistic. After the tests were finally complete, Casey was told by a resident that it was not what they all had been fearing: he was cancer-free.
Conner remembers going to bed that night feeling like a weight had been lifted off his chest. So when he awoke to a slew of missed calls from his mother the next day, his heart sank. The resident had told Casey incorrect information. He had been diagnosed with leukemia.
Immediately, Conner knew he had to fly home to Pennsylvania to be with his brother.
“I called Casey when I was waiting for my plane, and I could tell he was still in shock a bit, but he said to me, ‘As long as it doesn’t kill me, I’m fine with whatever the treatment is, and I think I can get through it,'” said Conner.
Since the time of his diagnosis last spring, Casey has undergone all forms of treatment, doing everything he can to fight the disease. He had to miss his own graduation that he was looking forward to for a long time, but the deans of his college conducted a small graduation ceremony for him at the hospital.
As Conner has watched his brother go through something he and his family never imagined would happen, he found himself becoming angry. Angry that he could not do anything, angry this had happened to his brother. He wanted to do something to help, so he learned more about Casey’s diagnosis.
Casey has acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), which is a very difficult cancer in a person Casey’s age. It is usually either found in very young children or older adults, and his doctors were not sure what caused it. Conner started to dig even more and found that there were already many people dedicated to finding a way to help those diagnosed with ALL, but what they needed was support.
And that’s exactly what Conner started to do.
Over the past week, Conner and Beger have been biking across the country to raise awareness for those living with ALL. Conner says he and Beger have done many bike trips before together, but they wanted to make this one count. They figured in 100 hours, they could ride from Chicago to the Penn State Hershey Medical Center where Casey was being treated. They would ride one minute for each person (including Casey) who was diagnosed with ALL in 2018 (5,960 individuals).
“It’s really hard some days to get up and bike, but when you think about for each minute you are biking, another person has been diagnosed with something that changed their entire life, it’s really doesn’t seem as hard,” said Conner. “It’s one minute for you, while it’s the rest of their life for them.”
When Conner asked Beger to ride with him, Beger knew immediately this was something he had to do. Coming from a tightknit family, Beger says he thought what is this was happening to one of his brothers, he would do anything to help. As a member of Lambda Chi Alpha, Beger knew better than most that service to others, especially those who are close to you, means the world.
The two friends have met all sorts of different people along the way, including other members of Lambda Chi willing to help when the only thing they knew was that they were helping a fellow brother.
“Something else that has been so cool about this trip is seeing how willing other people are to help out,” said Conner. “When we were at Ball State, Sam had never met these guys that were in Lambda Chi before, and the only thing they had in common was their fraternity.
“It took less than 10 seconds on the phone for them to invite us into their house, cooking us dinner that night, and this was before we even told them what the ride was about. I don’t know if they realize this, but it’s things like that where we are able to bike again the next day.”
Conner and Beger admit there have times along the way where they ask themselves is this really making a difference? But then they meet survivors along the way that remind them of the cause for which they are biking.
“Sometimes biking is not the most glamorous thing,” said Beger. “We have ridden in the rain and in the mud, but it’s a continual reminder that we are doing this for a good reason, and however much we are suffering in the moment, it’s not even close to what Casey and these 5000+ other people are going through.”
The pair plan to arrive at the Penn State Hershey Medical Center this Friday to be reunited with Casey. In addition, they have decided to pledge a $4000 fundraising commitment to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. This fundraiser will culminate in the Arizona Ironman 70.3 Race in Tempe, AZ, where the pair, joined by another friend, will be racing in under the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society banner to help raise awareness and research funds for leukemia and lymphoma research.
When Conner found that his brother had leukemia, a fire started burning inside him to make some sort of difference and show that determination and the human spirit can never be broken.
To learn more about Conner and Beger’s ride and make a difference, please click here