Blake Chandler, 20, a former Nature Coast wrestler, did not get to stay the entire night last year at the Relay for Life rally held at his high school, as is the tradition. The fact he was there at all walking laps around the football field was the cause of his honoring at the Luminaria ceremony.
“I got out of surgery on a Wednesday, and out of the hospital on Friday at 3 o’clock,” Chandler said. “And I came home, pretty much got clothes on, and walked Relay for Life right after my amputation last year, so I didn’t get the chance to stay all night because I was in pain and stuff.”
“This year I want to be able to stay the whole time,” he added.
Osteosarcoma is the most common bone cancer in children with a diagnosis age around 15, according to National Institutes of Health. Boys and girls are just as likely to get this tumor until their late teen years, occurring more often in boys and in any bone, but most commonly large bones and in the area with the fastest growth rate.
“I was wresting all the way up to my junior year in March, which is when I was diagnosed,” Chandler said. “I got hurt August of 2010, and I didn’t really care about it. I kept putting it off, thinking I just sprained it, and pretty much ignored it and kept wrestling on it.”
Come that fall and winter, it got a lot worse, Chandler said.
“It started hurting, swelling, and I got stepped on, and it popped, and the swelling got a lot worse and the pain a lot worse,” Chandler said. “I put it off till February, and knew there was something seriously wrong with my ankle.”
He went to the doctor’s office and got an X-ray, Chandler said, and the image came back fuzzy, and the doctor decided to do an MRI.
“He said he thinks I have a malignant tumor, and that it’s cancerous,” Chandler said. “After that I went to (a) cancer center, and said I think I may have cancer. They’re the ones that fully diagnosed me, because the doctor in Spring Hill could not fully diagnose but only suggest it.”
It was Tuesday when he went in suspecting he could have cancer, Chandler said, and on Wednesday he went in for the biopsy. On March 29, 2011, when Chandler woke up from the anesthesia, was when they provided the full diagnosis called osteosarcoma.
A year later, following 10 months of chemotherapy treatments, Chandler made the decision to amputate his leg.
“The leg amputation came right after my prom, and I decided to amputate,” Chandler said. “My main reason … there’s no limitations, so I chose this way. Kind of nerve wracking at first, but after I made the decision it was the best decision I ever made.”
When he had his amputation, half of his wrestling team and friends came down to see him at the hospital.
“I had awesome support of my family,” Chandler said. “My mom never left my side once through what I went through with chemotherapy and everything, and my grandparents, my aunts, and uncles.”
That positive attitude is what helped those that loved him get through, he said.
“If you’re not positive, honestly, I don’t know how you make it through it, because it’s really tough,” Chandler said. “Me being positive really helped my parents get through it, as well. If I wasn’t as positive as I am, I don’t think my parents would have been able to go through it.”
During that time his parents were both working to make ends meet — his dad was in and out of the house all day, and his mom was stationed at work — and he’ll never forget how Rob Ryan and Stephen Lavarone were there for him.
“They honestly, and I think to this day, they really helped to take care of me,” Chandler said. “(Ryan) would come straight to my house. He pretty much stayed and took care of me until 10-11 at night, and (Lavarone) would come over at 10-12 at night and stay with me through the whole night, and just talk to me, and help me get up and go to the bathroom or anything like that, so I was always thankful for those two friends being there.”
The fight continued with faith and uncertainty.
“He was a depressed kid, you could say,” Chandler said. “I got a call from the hospital asking me to go over there and get his spirits up. I guess he was really down and not happy with what he was going through.”
Chandler visited and talked with him for four hours.
“The main thing as a cancer patient is to never look back, always look forward and never worry about what’s coming up except for when you get there,” Chandler said. “If you’re thinking about it, it’s going to depress you thinking about surgery in a week, or how big it is: don’t think about it until surgery day comes. That’s what I did.”
Chandler did that through seven surgeries. It worked, he said, with the support of family and friends.
“I’m alive today, and why not fight it and smile, and tomorrow: we’ll worry about it when it comes,” Chandler said.
He never honestly had doubts of it coming back, Chandler said: when he went in for his three-month scan, to make sure the cancer hadn’t come back, before he ever walked in and saw the doctor, he knew what the doctor was going to say.
“I have no symptoms from my chemotherapy, and I’m still cancer-free, which is awesome,” Chandler said. “I don’t think I’ll ever get my cancer back. My major motto is, you only have one life, so why not live it to the fullest with whatever is thrown at you?”
On April 15, just four days before the Relay for Life rally at Nature Coast, Chandler will be 20. He’ll also be there 3-4 hours early, and he isn’t leaving until it’s closed.
“I plan on staying the entire time, because I didn’t get to last year,” Chandler said. “This last year has definitely been a big recovery, but now I would say that I’m fully recovered with the amputation, and with my prosthetic I’m definitely back to walking around every day normally. There’s nothing that stops me from my lifestyle now or anything like that that keeps me from getting anything.”
Chandler is working on his Certified Nurses Assistant certification, and the practitioner who fitted his prosthetic leg has piqued his interest in biomechatronics.