Everyone has a story, and this is my incredible journey…
My name is Kevin Sanders & I’m 35 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 Modeling & Animation. 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.
After 5 years of being Cancer-free I did a bicycle ride called, “The Hope Ride”. (www.thehoperide.com) I rode my bike 1400 miles from Bar Harbor, Maine back to my hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana in 29 days to show that there’s Hope after Cancer! I blogged then entire way and created a video when the journey was complete. It was such an awesome experience and I met SO many people along the way that I gave Hope to. It seems Cancer has impacted everyone in some way. Themselves, friends, or family have all been affected.
Since then I moved to Orlando to receive more schooling, with a concentration in Visual Effects for movies. I got my first big break into the movie industry in April of 2016 at Stereo D in Toronto, Canada. They do all of the 3D of the biggest blockbuster movies. I’ve been so blessed that I have been able to work on movies such as Star Wars, Guardians of the Galaxy, Star Trek, Thor, Planet of the Apes, Dr. Strange, and many more!
For my 10 year Cancer-Free celebration I’m planning another tough physical challenge. I am always striving to make the next year better than the last so, this February 2018, I plan to fly out to New Zealand and backpack for 40 days. My good friend Igor will accompany me for the first 14 then I will continue on by myself. I will rely on God, the tent and food on my back, and the grace of good people along the way for sleeping accommodations. I’m calling it, “The Hope Hike”.
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 Hike 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!