Harriet Benjamin, co-founder of The Wellness Community, a Santa Monica-based cancer support organization, has died. She was 85.

Benjamin died of lung cancer at her Marina del Rey home April 7th with her family at her side, Wellness Community Executive Director Ellen Silver said.

Benjamin and her husband, Harold, started The Wellness Community in 1982 to bring psychosocial support to cancer patients and their families, free of charge, at a time before the notion that cancer patients would benefit from such support was part of the mainstream, Silver said. The concept of their organization was to turn cancer “victims” into their own advocates, reduce despair and enhance the possibility of recovery, she explained.

In 2009 The Wellness Community joined forces with Gilda’s Club to form the Cancer Support Community (CSC), which now has nearly 100 locations in the United States and around the world.

Benjamin was born to a Jewish merchant family in a small town in New Jersey on June 2nd, 1924. She received both her undergraduate and masters degrees in 1947 from Pennsylvania State University, where she met Harold Benjamin.

The couple married in 1947. While Harold attended Cornell Law School, Harriet worked as an agricultural researcher and in 1949 gave birth to their first daughter, Ann. After graduation they moved to New York City where Harold practiced law and Harriet gave birth to their second daughter, Lauren.

The family moved to Los Angeles in 1964 and from 1968 to 1975, they lived in Synanon, which had grown from its beginnings as the first self-help drug rehabilitation center in the country into an economic cooperative and an experiment in communal living.

It was in Synanon that Harriet developed breast cancer, and where both she and her husband learned of the importance of community in helping to deal with the emotional and physical difficulties of cancer, as well as fight for recovery from it, Silver said.

Silver called Benjamin the “heart and soul” of The Wellness Community who used her own experience at every opportunity to reach out and touch the lives of individuals and families facing cancer. Her legacy will continue to live on in the lives of the people whom the Cancer Support Community and The Wellness Community affiliate network serve everyday, she said.

Silver said Benjamin hoped that more and more cancer patients will become aware of The Wellness Community services so they know that they don’t have to go through cancer alone.

Benjamin is survived by her daughters Ann and Lauren, her grandson, Jordan and his wife Pearl, and great-grandchildren Ana and Benjamin.

A memorial service is scheduled at 2 p.m. Thursday, May 27th at the Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. Seating is limited. Information, Jackie Korman at (818) 606-0049.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to

The Wellness Community-West Los Angeles.

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