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Meet Andre the Warrior

Warrior [wawr-ee-er] noun: a person who shows or has shown great vigor or courage. 

Synonyms include fighter, soldier and Andre.

There’s never been a person more deserving of their name than Andre Sanders.

Not only does his name literally mean warrior, but he is one, right down to his core.

At 4 years old, he’s pure dynamite. When Andre walks into the room, you know he’s there. While he stands at only 3 feet, 10 inches tall, he packs a punch with a larger-than-life personality that lights up any room.

“He loves out loud,” said his dad, Rich Sanders. “He’s very thoughtful and very kind. He always asks, ‘So, how was your day?’ He has a conversation like an adult. I don’t even ask my wife these questions sometimes! But he’s a constant reminder to me to do certain things.”

Despite being diagnosed with a Wilms tumor, Andre approaches his treatment the same way he approaches everything else in life – with determination, the drive to overcome and all the love in the world.

Andre's Diagnosis

Rich and his wife, Alexandra, decided that once Andre was old enough (he’s the youngest of two), the family would move to Florida, which is where Rich grew up. After many trips down south, and with both Andre and brother Demeris John (DJ) loving Florida living, the family decided to make it permanent.

They started getting everything in order. For four months, Rich went back and forth between Buffalo and Florida; everything seemed to be working out. 

Then came the big move – August 4, 2019. The family drove down to Florida and settled in. They had job offers and a good living situation, and were adjusting well to their new life. 

But Hurricane Dorian, which was projected to hit the neighboring town on September 3, 2019, had other plans.

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 next day, Andre’s scan revealed he had a tumor on his left kidney, which was thought to be a Wilms tumor. It was so close to rupturing that he had to have surgery to remove both the tumor and his kidney right away.  After surgery, Andre experienced several post-operative complications, including fluid in his lung.  This kept him in the hospital longer than expected.  

The Sanders family were informed prior to discharge that he was stage 3, with favorable pathology, and with one positive lymph node.  They were told to expect radiation to his left flank and six months of chemotherapy upon their return to Buffalo.  He was finally discharged on September 14, and the family began their journey back to Buffalo.

Thankfully, Andre was cleared to fly, so he flew to Western New York with Alexandra and DJ. Rich drove back with their dog. 

A few days later, they were at Roswell Park, where Dr. Denise Rokitka laid everything out for them. They started with a CT scan, which showed that all the fluid in Andre’s lungs was gone. But it also revealed two nodules in his chest. Once again, plans changed. 

Because genetic testing showed the tumors to be more aggressive, treatment changed from radiation to the left flank only and 22 weeks of chemotherapy to 33 weeks of chemotherapy and whole lung radiation. While this treatment plan was more intense, it also significantly increased survival rates.  

“It was a no-brainer,” Rich said. 

Andre started treatment in September 2019, and he’s handling it like a pro. Even when his hair started to fall out.

“He said, ‘I am going to be bald like my dad! It’s no big deal,’” Rich said. “Andre takes everything in stride.”

The Big Shave

Andre with friends at Sabres

Andre will be joining Bella and Adriana on March 5 to shave Marty Biron and Dan Dunleavy’s heads as they go Bald for Bucks. To Andre and his family, their support means everything.

“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.”

Follow Andre the Warrior on Instagram here.

Get to Know Bella, The Girl Who Started It All

You only have to spend a few minutes with Bella to realize she has a heart of gold. According to her mom, Jamie, she is caring, loving and always thinking of others.

“On Bella’s first day of kindergarten, one of her classmate couldn’t go outside because she didn’t have her EpiPen and was allergic to bees. Bella stayed back so the girl wouldn’t be alone. They played together in the classroom while everyone was outside,” Jamie said.

This is just one of many examples of Bella big heart. Despite her battle with cancer, Bella has remained a sweetheart who is always looking out for others. 

And she’s doing well!

“She is the strongest person we have ever met,” Jamie said. “Always smiling despite the many ups and downs we have faced.”

Bella was the first Courage of Carly Fund kid to shave Marty Biron’s head live on air. In 2018, she passed the clippers onto Adriana and the girls shaved Marty and Dan Dunleavy’s heads. And on March 5th, the pair becomes a trio with the addition of Andre.

He’s Back for Round 2 – Dan Dunleavy is Goin’ Bald

On March 5th, sportscaster Dan Dunleavy will join Marty Biron live on air to Go Bald for Bucks. This is Dan’s second year participating in our head shaving program. We chatted with him about why he’s shaving his head for the second time and what this cause means to him. 

Dan Dunleavy goes Bald for Bucks

Q: How did you first hear about Bald for Bucks?

D: I had heard of or known of similar initiatives in Canada. I learned about this particular event when I started working for the Sabres. I am into my 7th season with the team. 

Q: What made you decide to participate in Bald for Bucks?

D: My sister is a survivor of what was a rare form of childhood cancer. Her survival through efforts by Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto turned out to be a case study for that particular cure. 

My mom is a cancer survivor and my late father had lung cancer when he passed away after surgery to deal with the disease last year at age 86. 

 Q: What does Goin’ Bald mean to you? 

D: I feel as the only member of the family of four not to have this disease (so far), my purpose is to fight for everyone who has been or is confronted with it.

Q: What are you most excited about for this year? 

I loved how having my hair shaved felt last year and the energy from all who were there with Marty and I. It was all such good energy from the kids and the parents and fans who stopped by to watch. 

Q: What would you say to individuals thinking of Goin’ Bald?

When you think about the challenge ahead for cancer patients, shaving your hair is such a painless thing to go through to show your support. 

Why Marty Biron Goes Bald for Bucks

It doesn’t matter if you’re a student, a YouTuber or a professional athlete: Everyone’s life has been touched by cancer. Take, for example, our favorite former NHL goalie and friend Marty Biron.

The first time he experienced it was when his aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer. “It was a very scary thing,” he said. Thanks to the right treatments, she was able to overcome it.

But a few years later, Marty’s family was touched by cancer once again when his cousin was also diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after having her first child. While she received the proper treatments and entered into remission, she eventually relapsed and passed away at a young age.

“It hit us like a ton of bricks,” Marty said. “This is a person that was basically like my sister … it really hit us hard.”

These experiences led Marty to want to do more and help in the fight against cancer. Enter Goin’ Bald for Bucks.

The First Shave

Marty heard about Bald for Bucks in 2013-2014, the first year after he retired from playing hockey professionally. The Sabres were doing their own version of snipping, clipping and shaving, so he decided to join in on the fun and shave his head. He had a blast! It was great to do something with the team and feel a part of the community, Marty said.

Marty’s participation with Bald for Bucks eventually grew to him shaving his head live on air in 2017. He said the public and community support for the event was incredible, and it’s now become a tradition. Last year, Dan Dunleavy, sportscaster for the Buffalo Sabres, jumped in on the fun.

“There is an adrenaline rush when you jump off the first set, go to the second set and get ready to have your head shaved,” Marty said. “It is so much fun being in that setting, being right there with the TV set and having the crowd gathered around survivors.

“It’s a very emotional time. It’s filled with adrenaline and excitement for the moment, and it’s been fantastic,” Marty said.

Together, Marty and Dan raised more than $8,000 for cancer patients at Roswell Park.Marty will be shaving his head for cancer cures for the fifth time in 2020. And what’s his advice for those thinking of participating?

Why Bald for Bucks

So what makes Bald for Bucks so special to Marty?

According to him, it’s the passion and dedication of students across Western New York that makes him proud to be a part of this initiative.

“It started with kids in school wanting to show support to each other. It wasn’t to gain popularity or to even raise millions of dollars. That’s why it’s a special initiative. It wasn’t about dollars; it was about supporting one another,” Marty said.

And it’s something he looks forward to each year.

“Every year you do it and you wake up the next morning with this great feeling that you’ve showed support and you’ve helped raise awareness. It’s a sense of community and sense of partnership.”

Through his participation, Marty has been able to meet some incredible kids, like Isabella and Adriana.

“You’re involved in people’s lives that you never thought you’d be involved in.”

At the end of the day, participating in Bald for Bucks means making a difference to him.

“For most people, if you’re healthy and you shave your head, within a few weeks, it’ll have grown back. People that go through cancer treatments and lose their hair, it takes a lot longer; it doesn’t feel like it’s growing right back. The feeling of doing [Bald for Bucks] is incredible. Having friends, family, people you care about around you when you do is a special moment. It’s a small step to help find a cure,” Marty said.

Marty will once again be shaving his head live on air on Thursday, March 5.