Andre Sanders looks forward to coming to Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. Before he was diagnosed at age 4 with Wilms tumor, a type of cancer on a kidney, coming to Roswell Park meant a special visit and lunch with his mom, Alexandra “Alex” Sanders, MSN, RN, an oncology nurse coordinator in the Genitourinary Unit.
In the summer of 2019, the family relocated to Florida, where his father, Rich, grew up. They were just getting settled when Hurricane Dorian hit in August and they evacuated to Atlanta to escape the storm. Andre started to feel sick their first day there. He woke up vomiting during the night and told his parents his stomach hurt. The next morning, when Andre wasn’t feeling better, they went to a hospital where it was suggested Andre had appendicitis. During the start of his appendectomy surgery, doctors came out with the news of finding a tumor on Andre’s kidney. The tumor was close to rupturing and had to be removed, along with his kidney. A few post-operative complications kept Andre in the hospital longer than expected.
As soon as they could, the Sanders returned to Buffalo for Andre to receive care from the Roswell Park Oishei Children’s Cancer and Blood Disorders Program. He went through several rounds of radiation and nine months of chemotherapy before ringing the Victory Bell in May 2020. Andre remains on surveillance and comes to Roswell Park every three months for follow-up. But Andre — better known in Western New York as Andre the Warrior, as his name means “warrior” — wasn’t afraid or nervous about coming to the hospital when he needed to come for treatment.
“If you were to ask Andre what chemo was like, or what radiation was like, he called that getting his pictures taken. He would tell you about all the fun things he did while in the clinic,” Alex Sanders says. “He would say ‘I played video games’ or ‘I painted.’ He only remembers the good things because of all the good things we have here to help our children through such a terrible time. When he was here and going through treatment, he looked forward to coming here. I know that probably sounds kind of crazy, but before he was diagnosed, mommy worked here. When he was younger, on a couple special occasions he had come to Roswell Park to eat lunch here on my break over the summer.”
Andre also received a toy football from a cart brought around by a group handing out presents to pediatric patients during a five-day stay over Thanksgiving during his treatment. “He said to me, ‘I want to do this for other kids. I want to bring kids toys in the hospital.’ By nature, he’s a giver. That’s just his heart,” she says.
Two years later, Andre is getting his chance. He’s designed a special gown for other kids who have to spend time at Roswell Park, one that’s covered in penguins and a North Pole theme. The gowns were made by an organization called Resilience Gives, which provides patient-designed grippy socks and gowns to pediatric patients to make their hospital stays a little more comfortable and fun.
“We understand we can’t change a kid’s prognosis with what we’re doing, but little things, like a good pair of socks or a fun gown, little things like that, can make a difference over the long term,” says Jake Teitelbaum, founder of Resilience Gives and a five-year cancer survivor himself. Resilience Gives donates one pair of socks for every pair purchased; the gowns are donated through proceeds from sales of the organization’s “Live Like a Kid” t-shirts.
Teitelbaum says he’s still surprised when he sees pediatric patients continue acting like kids even during treatment. “One of the earlier kids we were working with, I was expecting to go in and he’d be low energy. I went in and he was having a dance party with his siblings,” he says. “Children don’t know they’re supposed to be sad or low energy; they’re just doing their thing. That idea of living like a kid, celebrating the joy in the little moments along the journey, it’s so special. That’s the essence behind the t-shirt. We want to celebrate that idea.”
He first learned of Andre through social media and the pediatric cancer community and believes the young fighter is a great example of that motto. When Resilience Gives reached out to Andre to design a hospital gown for kids, he was adamant that it feature penguins. “When we asked him why penguins, his exact words were: ‘they’re cute, they’re funny,’ then he paused for a while and said, ‘and they can slap people!’”
One of the first children to receive Andre’s gowns is a young boy who designed a pair of socks for Resilience Gives, also covered in penguins. The boy was in the hospital at the time because his cancer had relapsed. “He opened the package and said ‘Penguins!’ He was so excited. It’s little things like that, where a family that’s walked in similar shoes reaches out and says, ‘we’re thinking of you,’” Teitelbaum says.
Helping kids stay cozy and safe
Andre is giving 50 gowns to the Katherine, Anne & Donna Gioia Pediatric Center at Roswell Park and another 250 gowns to the pediatric unit at Oishei. He also is giving 100 pairs of grippy socks, from Resilience Gives. In addition, Andre raised $1,360 to donate 96 turtle nightlights from an organization called Max Love Project, another childhood cancer family’s labor of love, to the Roswell Park Pediatric clinic.
Alex Sanders is delighted that Andre’s story has come full circle and shares her son’s happiness in giving back to other kids.
“It brings me joy because he feels joy when he gives back to others. That’s who he’s been since he was a toddler,” she says. “Through his journey, so many people have been so gracious and given to our family. It’s not only Andre’s joy but it’s our joy to give back to others.
“These things might seem small but if it puts a smile on someone’s face, or if they have fun, cute grippy socks during their stay or a nightlight or a comfortable gown, it makes a little bit of a difference.”
Why Roswell for Pediatric Cancer?
At Roswell Park, we want the childhood cancer survival rate to keep climbing. When you trust your child’s cancer care to us, you are giving your child the tools needed to fight this battle.Learn More
Editor’s Note: Cancer patient outcomes and experiences may vary, even for those with the same type of cancer. An individual patient’s story should not be used as a prediction of how another patient will respond to treatment. Roswell Park is transparent about the survival rates of our patients as compared to national standards, and provides this information, when available, within the cancer type sections of this website.