November 27, 2009

Battling Brain Cancer, Sanderson Wants to Play

from staff reports

Chris Sanderson, who was told by doctors after having a brain tumor removed last Dec. 22 he might have no more than a year left to live, is approaching the first anniversary of the surgery intent on being in goal for Canada at the world field lacrosse championship next July.

The 35-year-old native of Orangeville, Ontario, has been promised a spot on head coach David Huntley’s staff by GM Johnny Mouradian, but Sanderson says he’s feeling good and wants to play. He is among 30 players remaining in contention for 23 roster spots.

"Ultimately, the goal is to be a player," says Sanderson. "If the games were today, and I’m feeling the way I feel today, I could play.

"That’s what we’re all hoping for. My condition can change quickly. The staff and management are all aware of that. As long as I can continue on the path I’m on now, I’ll be a player."

He's determined.

"As an athlete, the competitive nature comes out," he explains. "I know I can still compete at that level and help win another world championship and, to be honest, I believe me being in goal gives us the best chance to win.

"The other side of it is emotional. When I had my seizure and was diagnosed with cancer, it wasn’t long afterwards that I was starting my training to make this team. There’s something about being able to come back and finish what I started. That’s important to me. It’s great motivation."

Chris and and his wife, Brogann, and daughters Stevie, 3, and Clementine, 1, live in Pennington, N.J., where Chris owns True North Lacrosse, a company comprised of a lacrosse specialty store and lacrosse youth camps, clinics and travel teams. Chris also is an assistant coach with the National Lacrosse League’s Philadelphia Wings.

Sanderson helped Canada win the world title in 2006 for the first time since 1978 and earned the distinction of being the first goalie in tournament history to be named best at his position a second time. He was inducted into the Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Fame in New Westminster, B.C., in the field player category on Nov. 14. What he got out of his previous world tournament experiences drives him to try to do it again.

"I left Canada, basically, when I left for college," the University of Virginia grad says from his New Jersey home. "Once I graduated, I stayed down here.

"So playing for Canada is an opportunity for me to play with guys I played with and against when I was growing up, and getting back to Canadian style of lacrosse -- a faster game -- is something that I’m most comfortable with. There’s something about playing with Canadian guys that puts me in a comfort zone. I really enjoy it."

As for his health, Sanders knows there will be difficult days ahead.

"I was given nine to 12 months," he says. "As the date markers of the diagnoses and of the surgery approach, you think about them, but I’ve got a great young family and that keeps me busy. It’s only when you’re by yourself that you reflect on how lucky you are to be here."

Sanderson had radiation treatments for 30 consecutive days after surgery and missed only one game behind the Wings’ bench with Huntley, the NLL team’s head coach. Sanderson made two trips a month last winter to the Duke University Medical Centre in North Carolina where he had his surgery and since last spring he’s flown down once a month. He also drives an hour to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia once every two weeks, and there’s oral chemo at home on a continuous cycle of five days on, accompanied by fatigue, and 23 days off.

"I will likely be on chemo for the rest of my life," he replies when asked of the latest word he’s received from doctors.

Still, Sanderson’s working out and hoping to play for Canada again.

"I have access to an indoor facility where I take shots," he says. "I’m trying to be as fit as I can be. For a goalie, probably 75 percent of it is between the ears. I’ll do everything I can to be ready to play."

Sanderson will make a bid to tend goal for the Toronto Nationals of Major League Lacrosse next spring to get ready for Manchester.

"That would be great preparation," he says.

Trying to play lacrosse while battling cancer isn’t some kind of heroic feat, Sanderson says.

"There are a lot of people who are diagnosed with cancer or some other serious disease and they get up every day and go to work and spend time with their families and are involved in different things, and they’re as big an inspiration as I am," he says. "When I go to the hospital in Philadelphia and I’m in the waiting room with kids as young as six months and some into their teens, I know what they’re going through. They’re inspirations to me."

So is his younger brother, Dustin Sanderson, who lives in Orangeville. Dustin was 15 when he suffered serious spinal injuries in a lacrosse game in Brampton in 2001.

"You see him and you’d never know anything happened," says Chris. "He still has his physical challenges. He’s been an inspiration to me. I look at what he came through and it helps me with what I’m going through right now."

Another brother, Ryan Sanderson, who is 10 months younger than Chris, moved to New Jersey to help out any way he could, and he’s still there.

"He’s been a real rock for me," says Chris.

Brogann and her brother Mark joined forces to plot the protocol for his treatments.

"It’s cutting edge," he says. "I’m one of the very few people who is receiving the protocol I’m on right now. They consult with doctors and research what’s out there. We believe we have something that is going to work.

"We just have to extend that expectation of nine to 12 months, make that window bigger, until there’s another breakthrough. We’ve already had a breakthrough with one drug. If we have another breakthrough like that . . . I was lucky to have two people who were willing to dive into the disease and take on the standard of care that might be available.’’

Lacrosse talk is a welcome diversion from health matters. The talent available to Mouradian and Huntley is different than it used to be, says Sanderson.

"My first time with the men’s team in 1998 we had five or six guys who had played Division I field lacrosse," he says. "Now, almost every player has college experience. That’s evened the playing field. Our guys will have played against the guys who’ll be our opponents in Manchester. That’s nice to know.

"There are so many difficult roster decisions. That means you’re putting together a good product. I think the team is going to be great -- the best Canada has ever had. I look at the American roster and I think they go in as the favorites, but we’ve got a good shot at winning win another world championship. The lock the Americans had on this tournament was broken in 2006. We know now that they’re not unbeatable. But I believe that, even though we won in 2006, we are the underdog going into 2010. I really enjoy being in that position."

Philly Lacrosse: Sanderson Taking His Best Shot at Life with a Brain Tumor


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