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Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
Kevin Sanders, 31, who was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor in May 2008 and underwent surgery to have it removed, will embark today on a solo bike ride from Bar Harbor, Maine, to Fort Wayne.

For survivor, solo trek about hope

The past few years have been a second chance for Kevin Sanders to scratch a few more items off his endless bucket list.

He’s traveled around the world on a boat.

He’s gone skydiving.

He’s snowboarded.

He’s been spelunking.

He’s conquered cancer.

And today, Sanders, 31, will depart on his next big adventure – a month-long bicycle ride from Bar Harbor, Maine, back to Fort Wayne.

Named “The Hope Ride,” the 1,300-mile journey is Sanders’ way of showing others that diagnoses like his are a mere speed bump on the road of life.

“There are so many people out there who, as soon as they get cancer, decide that life is over and they are done,” he said. “They get stressed and depressed and their immune system goes down and it all tumbles downward from there.”

Sanders has been collecting donations in the weeks leading up to his ride using an online fundraising website called Indiegogo and plans to give 25 percent of the donations to Jack and Jill’s Late Stage Cancer Foundation.

For most of his life, Sanders has been an adventurer with a “seize the day” approach to life, his friends say.

That is, until a diagnosis of oligodendroglioma cancer threatened to take it all away.

On May 4, 2008, Sanders had returned from dinner with his then-girlfriend Kati Stonebreaker, and the two had fallen asleep.

During the night, Stonebreaker awoke to Sanders moving around, and, thinking he was having a bad dream, attempted to wake him.

“She had interned at the hospital and turned on the light and realized I was having a seizure and rolled me onto my side,” Sanders said. “Basically, I’m going to say she saved my life.”

Sanders was taken to Lutheran Hospital and the next day was called in for an MRI that revealed a golf-ball-sized tumor in his brain.

“I think it’s the only time I’ve really been afraid. And it was only like five to 10 minutes when I just broke down in my room and was crying and thinking ‘why me? Why did this have to happen to me?’ ” he said.

“Then I realized this is not getting me anywhere. This isn’t doing any good and it’s not helping anyone and I’m not doing anything.”

From then on, his diagnosis became part of his life – another challenge to accept and overcome, Sanders said.

Sanders spent a month visiting hospitals and meeting with doctors and on June 2, 2008, was finally prepped and ready for surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

By that point, the tumor had grown to the size of a tennis ball and was dangerously close to the motor strip near the frontal lobe of his brain, doctors told him.

The surgery was a success. Two or three months later, Sanders began radiation and chemotherapy treatments.

He had to give up bicycling, tae kwon do and his other activities – anything that made his face flush – until he was healed.

“My doctor asked me how aggressive I wanted him to be during the surgery – how much of the tumor I wanted him to remove – because that would determine how long I would be in rehab,” Sanders said. “I told him, go for it, get as much as you can.”

Just another challenge to overcome, he explained.

And then, much to his doctor’s surprise, Sanders began to heal quickly, growing stronger more quickly than he expected.

“I had some speech problems, some issues remembering words, dates and numbers. I could only say a few words at a time, but that’s come back for the most part,” he said.

Today, the only physical difference Sanders notices is his two big toes twitching while he sleeps.

“It’s sort of strange, but hey, I’m OK with that,” he said with a laugh. “I’m extremely blessed.”

Margo Kelly, who has known Sanders for about four years, said he’s every bit of the adventurer he describes.

“I’ve learned a lot from him for my own life, like the way he lives his life and if he says he’s going to do something, he does it, no matter what,” Kelly said.

And he follows the same method in friendship, she added.

“He keeps his word 100 percent of the time. He cares about people and he wants everyone to be included, he wants people to come along with him and do these amazing things,” she said.

The Hope Ride

But for his upcoming bicycle trip, Sanders will travel alone from Maine back to Fort Wayne with only a couple of GoPro video cameras, snacks, a sleeping bag and tent and his trusty Trek 520 bicycle for company.

He’ll rely on the kindness of strangers at homes, churches, campgrounds and websites like www.couchsurfing.org and www.warmshowers.org for a bed to sleep in at night and a shower before he’s back the road.

“Basically, I decided that I’m going to give God a chance to do his work because I’ve never fully had to rely on God for anything,” he said. “I’m relying on God, my tent and the graciousness of people along the way.”

Sanders plans to travel about 50 miles a day, leaving time for breaks, adverse weather and bike breakdowns.

His employer, Cirrus ABS, plans to keep his friends, family and social media followers informed.

Cirrus ABS, a Fort Wayne-based website design, development and Internet marketing group, will sponsor Sanders’ trip including helping him raise money before he heads out later this week.

“We try to support things where we can, and when it’s one of our own, that makes the decision even easier,” said Kevin Mullett, director of visibility and social media for Cirrus ABS.

Mullett said the company will not only financially support Sanders throughout his ride but has also created a website to help share his message.

“We’re hoping to be his home base while he is away,” Mullett said. “Kevin is very adamant that the focus be on his message and not on him. He wants the focus to be on the awareness that cancer is beatable, that there’s hope for people afterward.”

The website www.thehoperide.com has been up and running for several weeks, allowing visitors the opportunity to donate through Indiegogo.

During his ride, the website will include links to social networks like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Vine, all with the tagline “The Hope Ride.”

When he returns, Sanders plans to finish his remaining three semesters at IPFW, and then he’s on to more adventures.

“All that cancer did was reinforce the fact that I needed to take advantage of life,” he said. “It’s just a hurdle, not an end to anything.

“Since then, I’ve just been living it up, and I don’t see that ending anytime soon.”

jcrothers@jg.net

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