Sean Dever, 21, is in his junior year at Young Harris College majoring in business and public policy with a minor in sports studies. Because sports has always been central to his life, it’s not surprising that he hopes to become a Coach one day; he hopes to find a graduate assistant coaching job after graduation. Ever since he picked up a lacrosse stick in 4th grade, his dream was to play the game in college. And today he is a member of the Young Harris Lacrosse team.
Making that dream come true would require hard work, dedication and determination for any young man. But, Sean’s journey from his summer lacrosse camp at Blessed Trinity Catholic School in Roswell a decade ago was particularly arduous. Playing against one of his childhood friends, Sean fell when their legs got tangled. Concerned about a resulting limp, Sean’s mother took him to get an X-ray and then an MRI. On July 11, 2007 his life changed forever. Sean was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare type of bone cancer found most often in children and teens, in his left femur, or thighbone.
“Sean is the type of kid who cannot sit still. I knew how much sports and participating with his friends meant to him,” said his mother, Mary Beth. So, when they were presented with three surgical treatment options, they chose the one that would ultimately give him the most mobility: rotationplasty. With this radical amputation surgery, the cancerous knee and a part of the femur (enough to get clear margins) are removed. The healthy part of the lower leg is rotated 180 degrees and reattached to the femur. Essentially, the lower part of the leg is reattached backward so that the ankle functions as a knee. The foot acts as a regulator for the prosthetic.
Prior to surgery, Sean had three months of debilitating chemotherapy: he lost 20 pounds, had no energy or appetite. The only silver lining was when the entire Blessed Trinity football team visited him in the pediatric cancer wing, bringing a Wii game console and a huge Nerf gun. Surgery was performed at the University of Florida's Shands Hospital. On October 3, 2007, he lost his left leg. Once able to return to Georgia, he started six more months of chemo and physical therapy. He got his first prosthetic leg December 3, 2007, but didn't wear it until February 2008, because he was so weak. Chemotherapy ended March 2008. While it was a milestone to finish that grueling treatment, he was now faced with learning how to walk again.
He took the summer to work hard and build up his strength. Within a few months, he was already remarkably mobile. The prosthetic limited his straight-ahead speed, but he made up for it with quickness and agility. Back on the field, playing goalie in lacrosse, he only gave up one goal in his first game back and his team won. Since his surgery, Sean has also played basketball, football, and wrestling and he started running in 2009.
Sean’s journey taught him never to give up He says, “It's worth pushing through. The pain is temporary, but happiness lasts.” His mother learned that “our family is capable of accomplishing anything.” She was forever touched by the love showered upon them during this difficult period of time.
With childhood cancer, there are ongoing concerns. Mary Beth says, “I worry about his gait and future aches and pains. I worry about his frustration level I am scared about his adjustment periods after he gets a new leg – there has been pain after each new leg. “’
“When your child has been diagnosed with childhood cancer, your perspective changes EVERY day is a blessing and something we do not take for granted,” she adds.
Today, Sean is cancer free, but goes back for follow-up regularly. “Think positive and make the good days really good and try to find the good parts of the bad days. I beat cancer, so in my mind I can beat anything," he says.
Click here to watch Sean tell his story on a CBS News story: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9jRHVyjSyq0
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