By Tony Adams, Sports Editor
You hear all the sport analogies: clutch player, gamer, wins when the chips are down, plays with ice water in their veins, etcetera.
All of these and probably a million others can apply to Sarah Tindell.
She was lively, full of spirit and working with children with autism, working for Central Texas Behavioral Solutions with her mother Kristi. It was her first job out of college and she was on top of the world.
She loves football, Sarah is a huge Denver Broncos fan and didn’t miss a game. Ask her a question of the Broncos and she will pop right up with the answer. A fan’s fan.
She was fighting a sinus infection before Christmas in 2013 and it carried over into 2014. It seemed to have been getting better. January had then turned to February.
The former Belton High School varsity cheerleader remembered the day well: the day after her beloved Broncos fell to the Seattle Seahawks 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVIII. February 3, 2014.
“I have cold-induced asthma and was coughing uncontrollably,” Sarah recalled. “The pain I was feeling was the peripheral pain from the coughing I was doing. That’s what my family doctor originally diagnosed it as. About a week later, the Monday after the Super Bowl…I had gotten no sleep the night before. I was sitting up in my bed and I could not lay flat. I had this bump on my back and you could see where the tumor was. So I went in and saw my doctor. He diagnosed it as pneumonia. So I was getting antibiotic shots and he had me on oral antibiotics for the pneumonia. After that, we want you to get a CT Scan and see a pulmonologist for this rare form of pneumonia that you can only get in Africa where the bacteria exists. I had never been to Africa. The pulmonologist was absolutely sure that’s what it was. So they scheduled the surgery and admitted me into the hospital to remove this ‘pneumonia’. The cardio thoracic surgeon decided he wanted to do a biopsy before hand, saying that he did not want to go into this blind if this is something else. He told my dad before hand about it because my dad works up at Providence, and said that you may want to be prepared because it could be cancer. It probably saved my life because if they would have gone in there blind, found the tumor and tried to remove it at that point when it was alive and the size of a grapefruit, it could have ruptured it and cancer would have spread to other places.”
But then end diagnosis was found, almost immediately after the biopsy concluded: cancer.
“Once I came out of the conscious sedation following the biopsy, they wheeled me into one of the exam rooms,” Sarah recalled, “They brought in my mom and dad, the surgeon who did the biopsy, the cardio thoracic surgeon and my pulmonologist. My pulmonologist was the one who broke the news to us that the results were in and that the tumor was cancerous. They said that they were almost sure what kind of cancer it was, but they needed to do more tests.”
The news hit Sarah hard.
“I was floored, because I had not heard the word cancer before that,” Sarah said. “I was preparing for it going into the biopsy. My body was telling me something was not right. There were a couple of tears because my mom started crying first. So I knew right then before she even told me. After the tears, the next thing I said was ‘What do we do? Just get it out of me’.”
Although the description of the disease is technical, Sarah explained it in the easiest terms as she understood it.
“Ewing’s sarcoma is a gene mutation, but it’s not genetic,” Sarah explained. “It’s not something that you pass from one generation to another. It happens when your eighth and 11th chromosomes switch within the genetic makeup. It’s random.”
They did a second biopsy, this time at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. They confirmed that the cancer was Ewing’s sarcoma, a bone and soft tissue disease. Her tumor was a PNET (primitive neuroectodermal tumor). Sarah’s world was turned upside down. She was 22 at the time, had just graduated college, was living on her own and was an independent woman, working as a therapist for autistic children.
Sarah has documented and chronicled her journey through the pain and suffering and the highs and lows of this fight on a Facebook Page called Sarah Kait VS Ewing’s Sarcoma. It showed the mental state of Sarah going through the process. All along the process, the cheers that Sarah gave the Tigers in her high school days were being returned to Sarah in the form of praise, well-wishes and pick-me-ups.
The initial treatment was a regimen of six chemotherapy treatments that would ravage this young woman’s body in a mission to get her back into the game of life.
“I went back after the intensive first six rounds of chemo and read what I wrote,” Sarah said. “I was so out of it I just couldn’t remember any of it. It was really freaky. I was in an entirely different mind set.”
She knew what she was trying to get across to people, although it seemed that people didn’t understand it. She prepared for a fun summer, like any other young adult would. Swimming and trips following the fight she had been through in the first six months of 2014. She fought through the pain and sleep-deprived nights, the blood tests and the nausea, thinking she was past Ewing’s clutch. They did the surgery to remove the tumor and tested it. But the news that she received rocked her world again: this time, the fight would be 12-rounder. This did not sit well with the active 23-year-old.
“They told me that the tumor was only 90 percent dead and this was an aggressive type of cancer,” Sarah said. “She said we don’t want it to come back and there could still be cancer cells in your body. The doctor told me there would be 12 more rounds of chemo. I was very upset that day and was sitting on my bed with my two best friends when my mom came in and told me they were going to do 12 more rounds of chemo. The doctor called my mom and told her, and I just started crying hysterically. I was angry and so mad. I thought I was done and it would be at the end soon. I thought I was cancer-free after the surgery.”
She hospitalized during several of the chemotherapy sessions in Houston, but was allowed to do some of the treatment at Texas Oncology in Waco.
She was scheduled to do 18 rounds of chemotherapy, but due to her potassium levels that dropped during each chemotherapy session, she consulted her physician about bypassing the 18th session.
“I called my physician and told her with my potassium levels dropping each time I do this, my body is telling me to quit this,” Sarah said recalling the conversation with her physician. “She said go ahead and cancel that round. She said that your body has to heal now.”
A little more than four weeks after her final bout with chemotherapy, the prognosis is good. She still struggles with her potassium levels, but she is doing far better than she had been doing doing.
“It’s a lot better than I had been doing,” Sarah said. “They have had me doing blood work every few days. That’s the reason I have kept the pickline. Otherwise, I would have to get potassium infusions via IV and that’s a painful experience. Once the potassium level is regulated, they will turn me loose and I will not have to have blood work done as much. I will have scans done August 3 and 4 at MD Anderson in Houston. They are doing a full scan from my skull to my ankles to make sure it is all gone.”
She goes back to the journal every day since she started documenting the fight and it give her the power to keep on fighting.
“I have these moments where I reflect back on this and am so happy to be alive,” Sarah said. “I made it through this and I feel this euphoric feeling. I tell my friends that I wish I could transfer this feeling to other people that are going through this fight so they can feel it. It’s an amazing feeling. Going back and reading the journal, I remember back to days that were really hard and difficult, knowing that I don’t have to do that anymore. It makes it 10 times better.”
Her journal has already been inspiring to the cancer community, with friends and well-wishers that stop by and comments on her blog posting. She has a friend in Houston that she met at the beginning of her fight. They correspond with one another, compare treatments and just lean on each other for support.
“Humor is my way of coping with things,” Sarah said. “It helped to have someone who was going through some of the same things I was.”
Her parents, Alan and Kristi, along with her sisters and friends were a major backbone of support during the fight.
“My family has been the biggest support system and I cannot thank them enough,” Sarah said. “There’s nothing that I could do to ever repay my parents for what they have done for me throughout this entire ordeal. Because I was living on my own when I was diagnosed. I was living by myself. They took me in and in hindsight, I couldn’t have done it alone. For the first month, I had to live in Houston. My grandpa selflessly rented us an executive apartment in Houston in an awesome part of town for a month. There were days where I couldn’t get up and my mom made me food. There were times where I was sick and she was there 100 percent of the way. My best friend Nicole for there for me, especially that first night driving me home with me screaming in pain. My family has been the biggest part of it and I wouldn’t have been able go through this. My mind set was to live as normal of a life as possible through this treatment, as close to my old life as possible through this treatment. My parents paid for so much throughout all of this. My sisters were so supportive.”
She recently went back to work for her mom at Central Texas Behavioral Solutions, working with children with autism. She had a message to those that may not be feeling well or are putting off going to the doctor.
“Don’t delay or put off going to the doctor if you are not feeling well,” Sarah said. “It may be a trip to your physician that just may save your life.”
A cheerleader role model on the sidelines with loud cheers and spirit for Belton High School until she graduated, who carried on to be a role model for those fighting cancer while fighting her own cancer. Sarah Kaitlin Tindell is a champion we can all be proud of.