Everyone has a story, and this is my incredible journey...
My name is Kevin Sanders & I’m 31 years old. On May 5, 2008 I was diagnosed with a malignant stage 3 cancerous brain tumor. It was discovered after I had a 30 second seizure in the middle of the night, forcing me to go to the ER. The next morning I was sent to get an MRI & there it was: a tumor the size of a golf ball, in the front left lobe of my brain. The tumor was later classified as an Oligodendroglioma (it took me a while to learn how to say & spell that!).
One month after my original diagnosis, a new MRI showed my tumor had grown to be the size of a tennis ball. It was time to discuss surgery. The surgeon asked me how aggressive I wanted him to be with the surgery because the more tumor and brain tissue he removed, the higher my chances were of having permanent brain damage. This was a big decision. But, go big or go home, right? So I told the surgeon, “You get as much out as you can. You do your job, and I’ll do mine.” After being given only a 20% chance of ever being able to use the right side of my body again, & being told I would need at least 6 months of rehabilitation, I opted for a very aggressive brain surgery. I made a promise to myself & everyone around me that I was determined to cut that rehab time in half. To prepare for this major life changing event, I made “how to” videos instructing myself how to literally pick up & put down my right leg, & how to wave my right arm back & forth. I spoke into the camera, telling my future self, “This is how you do it!” I tried to be as ambidextrous as possible & mentally prepare for the challenge during that month of preparation. After a long 8 hour surgery & 95% of the tumor removed, I opened my eyes to a new reality.
After the surgery I had difficulty getting my thoughts into words. For example, the speech therapist asked me to name my favorite movie & then describe it. My response at the time was “A guy uh… goes into the wild…uh and he died.” I also had a difficult time creating original thoughts. When the nurse came into my hospital room & asked my pain level, I could not respond until she gave me choices. When she asked, for example, if my pain was a 4 or 5, I would simply repeat “5”; the last variable in the sentence. At the consultation before leaving the hospital, my neuro oncologist told me statistics indicate that people with my grade & size of tumor generally have about 5-7 years to live, so I didn’t waste any time. I had a promise to keep. On the third day after having brain surgery, I left the hospital. Only I did not go home, & I did not go to rehab. Instead, I went to the Mall of America. And I walked the entire mall, even with 30 staples holding a large piece of my skull together. I never did attend a single session of physical therapy. I still smile while recalling the words of my excellent surgeon as he pointed me out as his “star” patient to other doctors. Even though I could not verbally communicate well, I could stammer out single words & gestures enough so others would understand me. Within a month after surgery, I underwent proton radiation five days a week for 7 weeks while starting chemotherapy at the same time. I had Chemo for 1 week each month for 12 months, which left me sick & lethargic, but I was determined to get on with life. I even went back to college to prove I could get another degree, sometimes having to leave the classroom to throw up. It was the toughest year of my life. According to my doctors, I am now in clinical remission.
I have always had a zest for life & have taken advantage of every day I’m alive, even before cancer. Carpe Diem (Sieze the Day) has been my motto for many years. I viewed cancer as just another one of life’s hurdles for me to overcome & now I try to teach others how to deal with fear and disappointments in their own lives. Life is short & this experience just reinforced that fact for me. I want to see, learn, & do everything I possibly can. I have checked off many “bucket list” items, if you want to call it that. Some of my biggest accomplishments are having 2 degrees in Computers and, after cancer, going back to get a BA in Computer Art & Design. I graduate in just 3 more semesters. I also spent the spring of 2012 on a Semester At Sea ship; 800 students sailing around the globe for an incredible 105 days, stopping in 11 different countries. My adventures have been many, including skydiving & hang gliding. I rollerblade, snowboard, & I’m a 2nd degree black belt in Tae Kwon Do.
I am always striving to make the next year better than the last so, this summer,on the 4th of July, I plan to fly out to Bar Harbor, Maine & ride a bicycle back to Fort Wayne, Indiana. It’s almost 1300 miles that I will travel alone; it should take about 4 weeks. I will rely on God, a single tent, & the grace of good people along the way for sleeping accommodations. I’m calling it, “The Hope Ride”. My heart’s desire is to bring hope to cancer patients & show them first hand that life doesn’t have to end after cancer. You can thrive & be a better person than you were before because you never take life for granted & you see the beauty & true value of each day! Any support you can offer as I undertake the Hope Ride will be sincerely appreciated as I hold the torch for fellow cancer patients & move on to the next chapter of my life. God Bless You!