Because Rich lived through Hurricane Andrew in 1992, he was determined to get his family away from the powerful storm. So they evacuated to Atlanta.
As a distraction, the family visited the University of Georgia to see the football stadium. Rich, Andre and DJ are all sports fans, so it’s something the Sanders family likes to do together. During their visit, Andre began to feel sick. Rich and Alexandra didn’t think too much of it because Rich and DJ had been sick a few days prior with flu-like symptoms.
The first night in Atlanta, Andre woke from his sleep with vomiting and complained of stomach pain. Something did not seem right, so Alexandra took Dre to the local hospital and was told that he likely had a stomach virus. The next day, Andre still complained of stomach pain, so Alexandra took him to a different hospital. The work-up suggested appendicitis so he was transferred to Children’s Hospital of Atlanta.
They got Dre ready for what’s supposed to be a 20 minute surgery to remove his appendix. After 10 minutes, the doctor came back out. Upon seeing the look on his face, Rich could tell something was wrong.
He told Rich and Alexandra to sit down. And they heard the words no parent ever wants to hear.
“I found a tumor on his kidney.”
The parents were told they would be admitted to the oncology unit.
“Everything starts to hit you,” Rich said.
“Is it cancer? They can’t answer that. So you have to wait until the next day to get a scan. And it’s a nightmare. You start thinking about everything else.”
The family knew they had to start planning, which meant moving back to Buffalo so Andre could receive whatever treatment he needed at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center.
The Journey Back to Buffalo
The Big Shave
“It’s great to have genuine people in this city that care and in this organization that actually do something that impacts people’s lives,” Rich said.
“Marty has a genuine heart for children. Maybe that has something to do with being a father. But there are those people that are genuine, no matter who they are. That’s Marty.
“Duffer is another amazing guy. I talk to him and I feel like I’ve known him for 20 years, and I’ve only had three conversations with him. He reminds me of an old friend that I talk to, and I don’t even know him like that.”
As a father, watching his son go through cancer is hard, but Andre and the rest of Rich’s family can handle anything.
“I grew up and was in environments where you’re taught to suppress your emotions. But with this, it’s the ultimate weak spot for me. I try to suppress as much as I can, but there’ll be times I am driving and it just hits me,” Rich said.
“There’s so much I have to keep doing to keep him and DJ not entrenched in this. It’s what has to happen. I was in a Target, and one of Andre’s favorite songs came on. I had to go in the corner near the Christmas trees and sob.”
But despite what the Sanders family is going through, they make sure to fill their house with one very important thing – love.
“We express it every day – in speech and in hugs. We are very expressive because my wife didn’t have that growing up, and I didn’t either. We want to raise our household like that.”
And it’s safe to say those expressions of love are paying off.
“Andre will say, ‘I love you’ randomly. When I come home at night, he essentially runs to the door and says, ‘Dad’s home!’”
And what’s Rich’s hope for Andre in the future?
“Never forget what he’s overcome and how he overcame it. We all go through things. And it’s one thing to just get through them. But he has taken it to a whole new level. He rose to the occasion.
“I want to remind of him of the tough times and of his strength. He can handle anything. He can do it, and not only get through it, but impact and change other people. I want him to stay true to that.”