Sandefer a cancer survivor

Cancer survivor Mike Sandefer of Statham, poses with his In Their Shoes running gear from over the years.

Three years ago, 67-year-old Mike Sandefer received a devastating cancer diagnosis. Since then, his determination and positive attitude have turned his cancer diagnosis into a journey that has helped others in his shoes through raising funds for Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center’s cancer support center.

It was during an annual examination that Sandefer, a Statham resident, first learned his prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels were abnormally high. His primary care physician sent him to a specialist for additional testing to determine the cause of these high levels.

“That’s when I got the news that I had prostate cancer,” Sandefer said. “As if this news alone wasn’t bad enough, my doctor told me that the cancer had already spread to my bones.”

Sandefer immediately underwent robotic surgery to remove his cancerous prostate; however, he needed additional treatment, including radiation therapy, for the cancer that had metastasized to the bones from his hips down to his knees.

Treatment was painful. However, rather than focusing on the negatives of his cancer diagnosis, Sandefer said he decided that no matter what, he wanted to stay positive, fight and focus on finding support.

It was during one of his radiation treatments that he heard about the Loran Smith Center for Cancer Support at Piedmont Athens Regional.

“I heard about their support groups, specifically for men who were battling or survivors of prostate cancer,” Sandefer said. “I started attending those regularly. That’s when I also got into ‘In Their Shoes.’”

The prostate cancer support groups, one of the many free resources offered at the Loran Smith Center, gave Sandefer a sense of comfort. He enjoys learning from other men’s experiences, as well as talking with others who know how it feels to go through a cancer diagnosis.

Connecting with the Loran Smith Center, Sandefer also discovered a newfound passion in the annual In Their Shoes run/walk event, a race that honors cancer survivors and raises money for the center.

“Since my diagnosis, I’ve been avidly walking,” Sandefer said. “I walk around five miles every day. Before my bones grew weaker, I was sometimes walking more than seven miles a day.”

Sandefer began his walking to keep his joints, muscles and bones in his legs strong.

When he heard about the Loran Smith Center’s annual walk/run, he knew he not only wanted to participate but also contribute to the cause.

He has now completed three In Their Shoes walks/runs, raising around $1,000 per event. He then donates these funds to the Loran Smith Center.

“The Loran Smith Center is filled with sincere, compassionate staff, and it’s nice to be able to give back to them for all they’ve helped me with,” Sandefer said.

Although Sandefer is still undergoing treatment for the cancer in his bones and his strength can diminish as time goes on, he is determined not to waver from his plan to stay positive. He is steadfast in his goal to continue walking and raising funds for In Their Shoes.

“I’ve been through a lot of obstacles with this diagnosis, but we’re so fortunate to have this place in our community,” Sandefer said. “I would’ve had the same diagnosis had I lived elsewhere, but I’m surrounded by support thanks to the Loran Smith Center.”

The support services offered at the Loran Smith Center are free and available to anyone affected by cancer at any stage of the cancer journey, regardless of where a person receives treatment.

Services include programs such as yoga, tai chi, nutrition classes, support groups and counseling. The center is able to provide these services free as a result of donations made to the Piedmont Athens Regional Foundation, according to a news release.

For more information about the Loran Smith Center for Cancer Support, go to piedmont.org/loransmithcenter.

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