Cherokee stays positive amid Hodgkin lymphoma battle

BY BRITTNEY BENNETT
Former Reporter
04/25/2018 09:30 AM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
Cherokee Nation citizen Shacotah Sanders, right, stands next to his mother, Tammie Simms. Simms shaved her head after watching her son struggle with losing his hair during chemotherapy treatments for Stage 2 Hodgkin Lymphoma. Sanders entered remission, but is now undergoing 22 radiation treatments to fight a reoccurrence of the disease. COURTESY
SALLISAW – When Cherokee Nation citizen Shacotah Sanders lost his hair after undergoing chemotherapy for Stage 2 Hodgkin lymphoma last year, his mother, Tammie Simms, shaved her head in solidarity.

“Chemotherapy is a really long process. It’s painful. It’s stressful. It’s really emotional because I lost all my hair,” Sanders said. “That was something I was really scared of right there, but the main thing that keeps me going is my mom. She’s like the only one that really keeps me going.”

This familial support is once more a shoulder for Sanders to lie on because while his hair has grown back, so too have the cancerous spots in his neck. It is a possibility that he had accepted after going into remission in October.

“I had prepared myself for it because there’s always that possibility that it could come back,” Sanders said. “Every three months I have a checkup, a PET scan, and we decided to do one in early March this year. We did it, waited about two weeks to get the results. We went back to my oncologist doctor, and he said that it came back, but it wasn’t as big as last time and not as bad. He said it was in the same spot and at the same stage, Stage 2.”

Sanders began undergoing 22 rounds of radiation on April 3 to again battle the cancerous disease, which starts in the white blood cells called lymphocytes. It causes uncontrollable cell reproduction that can potentially invade other tissues throughout the body and disrupt normal tissue function, according to the American Cancer Society.

Sanders travels from Sallisaw to Tahlequah’s Northeast Oklahoma Cancer Center five days a week for his radiation sessions and will have checkups every three to six months after the treatments.

“The radiation, they take you to a back room with a really big machine and you just lay on it, like a flat surface, and then they put a mesh mask over your face and tilt your head back so they can get to the spots where the cancer is. There’s no needles involved or anything. It’s just a big machine shooting radiation down on your body,” he said.

The first time Sanders noticed something amiss with his health was in March 2017.

“Every time I went running I noticed my breathing was off quite a bit, so I was just feeling around on my neck and I found these lumps on the right side of my neck, below my jaw. It was just affecting my breathing a lot, so I went to the doctor and had them check it out,” he said.

After a PET scan and surgery, doctors removed two of Sanders’ lymph nodes.

“They sent them off to be tested and they came back cancerous. They told me it was Stage 2 Hodgkin lymphoma and we started treatment last year in April,” Sanders said.

Doctors prescribed Sanders four rounds of chemotherapy at Warren Clinic Medical Oncology in Tahlequah.

“I was supposed to do four, but three rounds did it,” Sanders said. “During that time, I still went to work, and I didn’t feel good at all going to work, but I still worked my eight hours a day. I still went to work, put a smile on my face. I had a really good attitude about it.”

Though the cancer has returned and forced Sanders to put classes at Carl Albert State College on hold while continuing to work, he remains positive and recommends anyone going through a diagnosis to do the same. “Just have a positive attitude about everything. Surround yourself with positive things, people, family and friends,” he said.

Sanders has a GoFundMe account to help with expenses. To donate, visit www.gofundme.com/hodgkins-lymphoma-fight.

Symptoms and Info

Possible symptoms of Hodgkin ymphoma include fever, drenching night sweats and weight loss constituting at least 10 percent of a person’s body weight over the course of six months, according to the American Cancer Society. For more information, visit www.cancer.org/cancer/hodgkin-lymphoma.html.

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