In 1994, after 30 years of struggling with ulcerative colitis, Sandra Benitez underwent a total proctocolectomy with ileostomy, a radical surgery that changed her life by giving back what she thought she had lost: a happy, fulfilling, pain-free existence. Two months later, she began to reclaim herself and her career.
Prior to surgery, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD, a collective term for Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis) had been both physically and emotionally demanding on Benitez. However, she was determined to live a full life as a committed wife and mother, high school English and Spanish teacher, and aspiring fiction writer.
Through her worsening condition, she continued to write and after 13 years of submitting manuscripts, her first novel, A Place Where the Sea Remembers, was published in 1993. The book had been rejected by more than a dozen publishers, but upon its debut, received critical acclaim and even literary awards, both locally in Minnesota and nationally.
Meanwhile, her condition worsened. Two years after her doctors initially recommended an ostomy procedure, Benitez finally elected to have a surgery that would not only allow her to “beat her disease,” but also allow her to continue a blossoming career.
Her ileostomy procedure reinvigorated her health and well-being, and she began to travel cross country teaching creative writing, conducting readings and giving talks at colleges around the country.
She has since written three more novels: Bitter Grounds, The Weight of All Things, Night of the Radishes and most recently, her first non-fiction book, a memoir on living with an ostomy, titled: Bag Lady: The Triumphant True Story of Loss, Illness and Recovery. Each has won awards and her collective works have now been translated in six languages.
To Benitez, her Great Comeback® is about “a daily reawakening to my own healthy spirit and body. Coming back is about keeping a positive attitude and supporting others living with IBD.”
To date, her literary awards include: The Barnes & Noble Discover Award, American Book Award, a Bush Foundation Fellowship, a Loft-McKnight Award of Distinction and a Minnesota State Arts Board grant. She also was named the Keller-Edelstein Distinguished Writer-In-Residence and was granted a Knapp Chair in Humanities at the University of San Diego.
Most recently, she received the prestigious Hispanic Heritage Award Foundation in Literature during a televised ceremony at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and was named by Hispanic Business Magazine one of the top-100 most influential Hispanic women in the U.S.
Benitez credits her faith, her husband, Jim, and her two sons as well as Dr. Robert Madoff, her colon and rectal surgeon, and Robert Mackie, her gastroenterologist, for helping make her inspirational story become a reality.
For more information about Sandra Benitez visit www.sandrabenitez.com