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This Cancer Survivor Built a Bench in the Woods to Inspire Others

After surviving Stage 3 cancer, Mark Speckhart built a bench in a forest that offers respite and comfort to those who come upon it.

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Mark Speckhart: My name is Mark Speckhart. I’m a married father of three. I’m a Stage 3 esophageal cancer survivor.

My original goal for the bench came actually as just a whimsical thing. I was in the hospital, I had my surgery. I was there for 10 days. And as a distraction, I just began to design this bench in my head and a variety of other things. It was giving me energy to heal. I designed the chairs and the birdhouses.

So I found the location, I was walking my dogs Pearl and Mabel in the woods, and Pearl had gone down this path. And when I went down, I was following her, and I came down and I looked and it was on the top of a bluff. And it was just literally floating in the forest, surrounded by the trees and the birds. And I said to myself, “This is just the perfect location to have this bench.”

What made me leave the composition books at the bench was that I was walking the dogs one day, and I had met several bikers on the trail. And they had asked me, “Do you know anybody that or who built that bench?” And I said, “Yeah, it was me.” He goes, “You have no idea how many people go to that bench.” And the guy says to me, “Mark, you really should leave a book there and see what happens.”

So I went back to my workshop. I built a mailbox, and I found one of the composition books that was one of my kids’. And I just wrote, “Share your thoughts.” And I put it in the mailbox.

A week later, I noticed that people started putting notes inside the mailbox. And I realized that people started filling in personal stories. Some of these stories were very, very personal. I realized that people were having, had real problems and real issues and real struggles in life. But what I found from it was the human side had come out, a real, true caring for people, where people would answer people’s situations. And it became almost like a social media with using notebooks.

It was the sanctuary of this area that allowed people to feel safe and feel that they could anonymously give out their thoughts and their desires and their vulnerabilities. Just knowing that people are so kind, people genuinely care, the nature of all of this, the trees, the birds, how we all coexist, it’s given me strength, it’s given other people strength.

We all obviously come from different families and cultures and religions and all of that, but that aside, this area has created a neutral zone of just, I would just say harmony.

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