Family, friends of Sycamore veteran to hold cancer benefit

By Hailey Kurth

At age 23, Craig Clendening, a Sycamore native and military veteran, was diagnosed with stage three cancer.

The diagnosis came seven months after Clendening returned from serving in the military in Iraq. His aunt, Melissa Butts, said Clendening is one of four in his age group in the country to be diagnosed with Nasopharyngeal Carcinoma, which is located behind the nose and above the back of the throat. Butts said Clendening felt a lump on his neck after he got home from his three-year tour, but he had to wait for the medical insurance from his new job to start before he could get an MRI.

“One thing most people don’t realize is that when you get out and come home from active war, you have no medical insurance,” Butts said. “So he found a job, luckily, and his insurance kicked in.”

Butts said Clendening enlisted in the military a year after he graduated high school. Travis Williams, Clendening’s best friend of about 10 years, said he and Clendening mostly talk when they hang out. Though Clendening is frequently tired, Williams said he’s in good spirits.

“He’s pretty upset with the inability to taste things,” Williams said. “That kid’s always been about food — he loves food and everything about it. He can smell it, but he can’t taste it. So its like his main love was just taken away.”

Butts said Clendening receives radiation treatments every day at Hines Veteran Hospital in Chicago. The treatments are covered by Veterans Alliance, but there are other expenses, like car payments and transportation to and from the hospitals with which the family needs help. Butts said Clendening’s stepdad’s 22-year job recently closed, his mother has already used up every paid day she’s had and Clendening’s short-term disability runs out April 1.

“It’s like, you don’t even want to say, ‘What else can go wrong?’” Butts said.

Butts said it took her a while, but finally Clendening and his mother agreed to let her have a benefit.

“People want to help. People call me up and say ‘What can I do to help them,’” Butts said. “They’re such hard workers and so proud and hate asking for help, but we as a community want to be able to do something. And this is something we can do.”

Butts said Clendening is hoping to make it to the benefit, although any illness he encounters could adversely affect his health.

“He doesn’t look very good—he doesn’t look like Craig like I used to see him, so it’s different for everybody to see him when he’s real sick,” Williams said. “But I’m sure everyone would love to see him out there.”