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Albertan who survived life-altering car crash as teen now battling terminal cancer

Click to play video: 'Calgary father determined to beat terminal cancer diagnosis' Calgary father determined to beat terminal cancer diagnosis
WATCH: After surviving a serious car crash in 2001, a Calgary father is determined to beat the odds once again. As Tracy Nagai reports, he was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer in early January – Feb 24, 2021

A 37-year-old Calgary father of three is determined to overcome the odds once again after being diagnosed with terminal cancer earlier this year.

“I think we always have two choices: to live a healthy, vibrant life or just give up,” Matthew Bennett said. “I think that’s part of the magic of life.”

Bennett may sound unrealistically optimistic for someone recently diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer, but this isn’t the first time he has stared death in the face.

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In 2001, a serious crash in Kelowna left Bennett clinging to life after he was cut in half internally from a lap belt injury.

“When I was actually upside down in the car, in the ditch, I had a near-death experience,” Bennett said. “I had to decide to just stay or go.”

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Bennett said he chose to stay, and at 17 years old underwent several painful and life-saving operations — and then had to learn to walk again.

“His back was broken in his original car accident,” Bennett’s sister Melanie said. “He had a colostomy bag, he had a third of his intestines removed and he had to have the rods in his body taken out because of a staph infection.”

“He went through an amazing amount of trauma and hardship when he was younger, and he faced it so amazingly well.”

In the years following the crash, Bennett became an avid fisherman, traveller and outdoor enthusiast, not wanting to take anything life had to offer for granted.

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“I love climbing mountains, just because I can. I have the use of my legs — which at one point I was uncertain if I would,” Bennett said.

For the next two decades, Bennett said he focused on living his best life and raising his kids. When a mild, yet persistent cough developed, he said he didn’t think too much about it.

“First, it was kind of annoying,” Bennett said. “Then it got a little worse and a little worse, and then I got these migraine attacks.”

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In January, a coughing episode left Bennett immobilized. He said he was taken to the hospital, and after an MRI, the emergency room doctor gave him the devastating news.

“The ER doctor was showing me this three-inch tumour in my brain,” Bennett said. “But the main concern is my lungs. My lung capacity is taken up by tumours basically.”

Bennett underwent brain surgery to remove one of the tumours, however, he said the cancer has also spread to his hips and right rib.

“It’s (Stage 4) non-small cell lung cancer — an EGFR mutation,” Bennett said. “It’s apparently incurable.”

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Bennett said he was told that he may have less than five years to live and that his previous car crash may be linked to his cancer.

“(The doctors) said that it was probably from a traumatic event and that seems like the main traumatic event.”

“It’s pretty surreal to know that his current health issues are from something that happened as a teen,” Melanie said.

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GoFundMe has been set up to help Bennett while he focuses on his health and tries to find alternative treatments. As of Wednesday at noon, more than $17,000 has already been raised.

“We’re so grateful for the support that’s already been extended to him,” Melanie said. “It’s so sad to see my brother go through this. We’re all just figuring out ways we can help him.”

Although the prognosis is grim, Bennett said he isn’t giving up.

“I’ve got three kids. They’re 10, seven, and five,” he said. “I’ve got to live at least until they’re grown up. So living three to five years is not an option.

“I don’t have that in my plans to leave them behind — not until I’m good and old.”

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