hbenjamin.jpgHarold H. Benjamin, the founder of a national network of wellness centers for cancer patients, died on Dec. 23 of complications from pulmonary fibrosis. He was 80.
The Philadelphia native served as a radarman in the U.S. Army during World War II, then earned a bachelor’s degree from Penn State. He married a classmate, Harriet Miller, who supported him through law school at Cornell. Benjamin was working as an attorney when Harriet was diagnosed with breast cancer. She underwent a bilateral mastectomy in 1972 and recovered from the disease.
The experience inspired Benjamin to give up his successful Beverly Hills practice and dedicate his life to helping others. He encouraged cancer patients to maintain a positive attitude and promoted his Patient Active Concept: “People with cancer who participate in their fight for recovery from cancer will improve the quality of their life and may enhance the possibility of their recovery.”
In 1982, Benjamin pooled together $250,000 and created the first Wellness Community in Santa Monica, Calif. The organization, which offered free psychological and social support to cancer victims and their families, was facilitated by licensed therapists. The Wellness Community now serves 30,000 people a year at 22 centers in the United States. A center in Tokyo and another in Tel Aviv provide free services to cancer patients overseas.
The Wellness Community received a $1 million donation from a local philanthropist after “Saturday Night Live” comedian Gilda Radner wrote about her experiences there in the book “It’s Always Something.” When Radner died of ovarian cancer in 1989, her Wellness Community psychotherapist Joanna Bull, her husband Gene Wilder and her friends launched a similar project called Gilda’s Club.
Benjamin chronicled his efforts and philosophies in the books “From Victim to Victor” and “The Wellness Community Guide to Fighting for Recovery From Cancer.” He was also interviewed on the CBS news program “60 Minutes.”