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Michael Sanders

 

Michael Sanders

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US AIR FORCE

Michael "Mike" Sanders is a Senior Master Sergeant in the United States Air Force and is based in what he calls “God’s Country,” Eagle River, AK. His last duty day was April 20, 2012 as he left the Alaskan Command as the Superintendent, Operations Directorate on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. Michael and his family have served our nation in 11 different assignments. He has been decorated with the Defense Meritorious Service Medal with one oak leaf cluster, the Meritorious Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters, the Joint Service Commendation Medal, the Air Force Commendation Medal with two oak leaf clusters, the Joint Service Achievement Medal, the Air Force Achievement Medal with two oak leaf clusters, the Air Force Good Conduct Medal with six oak leaf clusters, the National Defense Service Medal with star, the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.

His final official temporary duty was to compete at the 2012 Warrior Games in Colorado Springs CO, for the Air Force where he won the Silver Medal in recumbent cycling and the Bronze Medal in the Open Division 1500-meter run this past May. After nearly 24 years of service to his country, he will retire from active duty in September 2012.

Sports have been a part of Michael’s life since he was 16 years old. He has participated in ten marathons including Boston, London, and New York. He also won the 2010 Warrior Games Gold Medal in recumbent cycling. This achievement encouraged him to participate in two Ride2Recovery events. Training for the 2012 Sea to Shining Sea Ride with World T.E.A.M. Sports through running, spinning and cycling, Michael is ready to fulfill another dream and make some memories. Despite the record 133+ inches of snow and cold of Alaska, he continued his training throughout the winter. When the spring thaw finally arrived, he began cycling outside once again.

In 2007, Michael was diagnosed with Stage IV Throat Cancer. He continues to suffer from the "collateral damage" that came with it such as scar tissue from the neck being cut open, a missing neck muscle, a hole in the throat from the racquet ball-sized tumor that was removed at the base of his tongue, over 40 lymph nodes removed, and part of the epiglottis and right pharyngeal wall removed. As you can imagine, swallowing is a significant challenge for Michael.

Michael also went through two bouts of chemotherapy (he was supposed to do three but couldn't sustain it, as he dropped from 150 lbs to 108 lbs). He now has some after effects from the it, primarily a bit of short-term memory loss, dizziness, and fatigue. His final battle with cancer required 33 sessions of radiation directly to the neck in which he was snapped to a table so he wouldn't move while receiving the dosage. Some of the damage sustained in this process was the "frying" of the saliva glands and thyroid...now he chokes on his own saliva because of the way it forms and deals with hypothyroidism. This is when he was willing to give up, especially in the last week of therapy. He was on a feeding tube and facing many mixed emotions. The radiation and chemo caused many nights and days of throwing up and crying and he shares that he simply wanted to throw in the towel. After the "slash and burn," phone calls from his son, Shawn (who just had open-heart surgery), and his mother and father (who was diagnosed with colon cancer in the same month as Michael and passed eight months later), and finally knowing that the Air Force was pulling for him, he knew he needed to fight; however, he was struggling with depression and anxiety. There were days where his wife, Laurie, would curl up beside him and just cry with him. What encouraged him the most was when his young daughter Jenna would come in the bathroom after he had thrown up and stroke his head saying "It's gonna be alright, Daddy..." That's when the battle really began! Michael reports he was encouraged by so many to fight and so determined to not let it beat him, he took on the challenge to live! With the successful radical neck dissection, chemo, radiation, and a lot of prayer, he has been cancer-free since January 2008.

Having dreamed about crossing the country by bicycle for most of his life, he greatly appreciates the opportunity to fulfill his dream but now with a recumbent trike. Michael also wants to encourage and inspire those he meets and those tracking him and to share with them that there are may types of wounded warriors ranging from combat-related injuries to accidental injuries to diseases such as cancer.

Michael said "This ride gives me the chance to meet the citizens of the United States...I want to do that!  My family has sacrificed so much for me to serve our country, so I'm excited to meet the people we have defended for so long. I want them to know that I'm grateful and thankful for their love and support and to also know that with God, all things are possible!"