In July of 2004, Evan Sanders’ life changed. One day he was a happy and healthy 12-year-old. The next, a cancer patient.
Sanders was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a cancerous tumor, on his T-10 vertebrae, and he lived at the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital for two years.
“I was doing an X-ray because my back was in so much pain,” he said. “Initially we thought it was a pulled muscle in my back, but my pain kept getting worse and worse.”
His parents scheduled a doctor’s appointment.
“The doctor told us we had nothing to worry about, as it was probably just scoliosis,” he said, “but when the doctor came back in that Monday morning, he diagnosed me with osteosarcoma on my T-10 vertebrae.
“I can remember that day like it was yesterday. I didn’t cry for two days because I was in so much shock. I just never thought that this would happen to me”
Although this is a common cancer for boys his age, it was a rare placement in Sanders’ case. Usually osteosarcoma tumors occur in the lower extremities ( below the knee or below the elbows), which means the most common treatment for such a cancer is amputation.
“In my case, the tumor was on my spine,” he said. “In a way, the surgeons, who were amazing, amputated parts of my spine and removed my T-10 vertebrae, along with most of my T-9 and T-11 vertebrae.
“In my spine, I now have five titanium rods, 11 screws, three hooks, and two cross braces all in replacement of the vertebrae that were amputated from my back. This was the only way to keep my body functioning. My family called me ‘the human robot.’”
Sanders, over the course of his two years at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, went through four surgeries, totaling more than 24 hours under the knife.
“When you leave St. Jude, you get one wish,” he said. “My wish was for a Segway, because I was told that I might never be able to run again, so getting a Segway was the next best thing.
“The day I left St. Jude was so bitter-sweet. I had made amazing friendships with the kids who lived around me, and one of them was recently in my wedding, which was such a blessing.”
Sanders, now 27, is a marathon, triathlon, and iron man competitor. Even though doctors warned him he would never be able to run again, he proved them wrong.
Sanders’ family and extended family are all huge contributors to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. When it comes to small donations at the grocery store, or yearly donations and fundraisers, they do it all.
Every year, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital hosts a marathon the weekend after Thanksgiving, and every year Sanders and his family come together to run in it as St. Jude heroes.
“I have ran dozens of marathons since I left St. Jude, but the one that I look forward to the most is the St. Jude marathon in Memphis,” Sanders said. “This race hits so close to home, and it is a miracle that I am able to run in it with my family every year. The love and support that comes from the staff at St. Jude is so amazing, I can’t even put it into words.”