Kimberly Sanders was an unlikely candidate to have bladder cancer. She had never smoked or worked with chemicals, two risk factors associated with the disease.
But many cancer survivors know the disease can be unpredictable.
Sanders, a 48-year-old kindergarten teacher at Crowders Creek Elementary School, was diagnosed in the fall of 2010 with a rare type of bladder cancer.
Now in recovery and free of cancer for more than three years, Sanders will walk with other survivors and family members in Western York County Relay for Life.
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The event, from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday on the field behind York Middle School, 1010 Devinney Road, is an annual benefit for the American Cancer Society.
“Since having this, I feel like it’s been a blessing,” said Sanders, a married mother of two children, ages 14 and 12. “It has strengthened my faith, it’s strengthened my friendships and my relationship with my husband.”
“There’s a lot of good that comes from it,” she said.
Sanders, who lives in Clover, first noticed something wrong when she saw blood in her urine. She said doctors found three fast-growing tumors in her bladder.
The tumors were removed, Sanders said, and she had Bacillus Calmette-Guerin, or BCG, a type of treatment designed to stimulate an immune response that can destroy cancer cells.
However, Sanders said the BCG treatment wasn’t effective, and in 2011, she had her bladder removed and replaced with a urostomy bag, a special pouch worn outside the body that collects waste.
Her husband, Jeff Sanders, “was my rock,” through her treatments and surgery, she said, and her parents attended every doctor’s visit with her.
But it was not easy for her family, she said.
Her children, a son and daughter, “handled it very well, but it was hard because they were in school and trying to do the normal routine,” Sanders said. “And I wasn’t able to be the kind of mom I had always been. I wasn’t able to do some of the things I wanted to do. But it has made our family stronger.”
Since her recovery, Sanders has helped others navigate through treatment, just as she said others helped her.
“I’m very open to talking with people,” she said. “And I’ve been blessed to be able to help some people. I’ve met a lot of people through this. I feel this is the reason I have it, God wants me to use it to help others.”
Sanders said she has met with people who have been diagnosed with bladder cancer to show them her urostomy and explain how it works.
“When you have something like this,” she said, “you just have to see the blessings in it and not focus on the negatives.”
Sanders said she started participating in Relay for Life after her diagnosis with a team from Crowders Creek school.
“It’s an awesome program, it helps survivors and it helps people who are going through cancer,” she said. “My first year I went, I was just overwhelmed with the upbeat, positive feeling that I got being there.”
The event also helps families who are supporting cancer patients, she said. “It’s a very hard thing to go through for a family member,” she said. “They do a lot of things to uplift people.”
Sanders also said she encourages people to be on alert for signs of cancer, such as blood in the urine.
“If I had waited, it could have been a tragic thing for me,” she said. “I just encourage people to go and not wait, get checked.”