Meagan Bebenek's legacy is not forgotten

  • May 10, 2010
meagans walkTORONTO - It’s been nine years since Toronto’s Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic School community lost Meagan Bebenek.

But the five-year-old junior kindergarten student has left a lasting legacy which was commemorated in the April 27 “Circle of Angels with Hope,” an annual event started after Meagan’s death from brain cancer.

With her voice breaking, former principal Sylvia Kennedy remembers Meagan’s gift of an Easter bunny picture coloured in pastel patches with the words, “I love you Dr. Kennedy.” It hangs near the entrance of her home.

This was the type of person Meagan was, says her mom, Denise Bebenek, who has carried on her legacy in Meagan’s Walk, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness about and funds for brain cancer research. Meagan’s Walk is scheduled for Mother’s Day, May 9 (see To date, it has raised more than $1.7 million for pediatric brain cancer research.

Meagan was diagnosed with brain-stem glioma, a malignant, inoperable brain stem tumour. She died in 2001, just two weeks after turning five, on Father’s Day.

This year’s Circle of Angels with Hope event featured a special prayer written by students in Meagan’s memory and for others who are seriously ill or who have died. About 75 Catholic schools participated in a “school hug” for Circle of Angels with Hope.

At Our Lady of Sorrows, students, staff and members of the Bebenek family gathered in a giant school hug to demonstrate the strength of community support in helping families dealing with a child’s illness or death.

During Meagan’s illness, she was surrounded with support from her family, school and church community, said her mother. The school hug is meant to echo the significance of that kind of support for those going through tough times.

Bebenek recalls the day when Our Lady of Sorrows began the annual tradition of remembering her daughter. On the school lawn, students and teachers gathered around Meagan as they presented her with paper cranes which included messages of hope for her recovery.

“There’s a Meagan in every school. It’s a chance to put our faith into action, all the lessons that children learn through the years about compassion and hope,” she said.

At Our Lady of Sorrows, students and teachers fondly recall Meagan and are commemorating the year when she would have graduated from Grade 8.

“She was kind and sensitive and always thought about others,” Grade 3 teacher Irene Monaco said, adding that Meagan’s cheerfulness and positive attitude were inspiring to others around her.

For Bebenek, her daughter taught her about the gifts of courage and gratitude. Even though she had gone for radiation treatment, Meagan looked forward to attending school.

“She kept saying ‘Don’t worry about me. I’ll be OK. Before I go to heaven, Mommy, I have to give everybody a present,’ ” Bebenek said.

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