Q-C natives bring fight against childhood cancer back home

Tony Bender, a Rock Island High School graduate who lives in Texas, holds daughter Addison Faith Bender, who died of cancer in 2007. The Bender family now operates a nonprofit group dedicated to raising funds to fight childhood cancer. The group will sponsor the Addison Faith Bender Inaugural Walk By Faith Sept. 30 at Niabi Zoo in Coal Valley.


John Marx, Columnist

Amber and Tony Bender, two of the finest people you will ever meet, have forged a wonderful life in the Houston, Texas, suburb of Kingwood.

The two, who have hearts bigger than the state they live in, are tremendous parents and pillars of their community. Yet as dedicated as they are to their Texas home, a huge chunk of the Benders’ hearts will always be in Rock Island.

In 2007, Tony and Amber — childhood sweethearts and Rock Island High School graduates — suffered the unthinkable, losing their young daughter, Addison Faith Bender, to cancer.

Addi, as everyone called the button-cute toddler, passed away on Dec. 4, 2007, after a courageous 10-month battle. She was a month shy of her second birthday.

Tony and Amber vowed to make a difference in Addi’s name. They formed Addi’s Faith Foundation (AddisFaith.org), a registered nonprofit organization dedicated to ending childhood cancer. Its purpose, the site says, is to raise funds for research into pediatric brain tumors, as well as provide financial assistance to families who are caring for a child with cancer.

Amber Bender has dedicated her career to overseeing Addi’s Faith as its executive director. That is, it must be noted, much more than a 40-hour-per-week undertaking.

In November 2017, Amber and Tony, along with their children, Trent, Riley and Olivia, and a dedicated cast of 3,000 runners and walkers, completed the ninth Walk by Faith 5K, held on the campus of the University of Houston. In April, the Benders hosted Addishack, a golf outing for over 100 golfers.

In a shade under 10 years, Addi’s Faith has raised $1.6 million to fund research and help families. In August 2017, the pediatric lab at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center was named the Addison Faith Bender Pediatric Neuro-Oncology Lab.

The Benders’ efforts to keep a community engaged and a public informed about ending childhood cancer is amazing by any standards.

Now Tony, Amber, Trent, Riley and Olivia are coming home to make a difference. They will host the Addison Faith Bender Inaugural Walk by Faith beginning at 8:30 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 30, at Coal Valley’s Niabi Zoo. An informational gathering with Tony and Amber is set for 7 p.m. Friday, May 18, at Davenport’s Outing Club.

“We have always wanted to go on the road, come home and make a difference,’’ Amber Bender said. “Addi loved animals, especially monkeys. It shows in the logo we use. The perfect setting for a run/walk is Niabi Zoo and all that it represents. And to have an event where we grew up and still have family and friends makes it even better.’’

Humble to a fault, the Benders said Addi’s Faith Foundation is their way of giving back, of honoring their daughter and easing the many fears parents face when dealing with such a dreaded disease.

“The only thing worse than hearing those four dreadful words, ‘Your child has cancer,’ is then learning that there is no cure,” Amber Bender said. “When we learned that less than 4 percent of research funding is allocated toward pediatric cancers, we knew we needed to do something to change that.

“We think our children deserve better, so we created Addi’s Faith Foundation to step up and fight for these kids. We know there is a cure out there, and together we will find it.”

The gathering scheduled on May 18, Amber said, will be informal, allowing the Benders to share the foundation’s message, draw support, and catch up with friends and family.

“We have always had tremendous support from people back home,’’ Amber added. “We know we came from a great and caring community. The hope has always been an event at home, and this is a great first step.’’

Columnist John Marx can be reached at 309-757-8388 or jmarx@qconline.com.
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