For many pre-teens, surviving middle school is in and of itself a challenge. But for 13-year-old Evan, he had the added challenge of becoming an osteosarcoma survivor.
His first memory of being unwell was experiencing back pain that wouldn’t go away. Already a gifted athlete at age 12 — he ran, played baseball, soccer and basketball — Evan assumed it was just a pulled muscle from overuse. He finally went to the doctor to have it checked out.
Doctors found that his spine was curved, a symptom they believed to be due to scoliosis. But after a sneeze caused Evan to collapse in class one day, scans revealed it was actually a tumor that was causing his spine to curve. The tumor — which was then thought to be non-cancerous — was surgically removed, along with much of his T10 vertebrae, and titanium rods and screws were inserted to hold his spine in place.
But within six months, another tumor grew in the same spot. This time, it was bigger than before.
A biopsy confirmed what he and his family feared the most, and emergency surgery for osteosarcoma was scheduled to remove the tumor, which had grown on and around the titanium rods, followed by six weeks of radiation then 45 weeks of chemotherapy.
Taking Things Day by Day
For two years, Evan battled aggressive osteosarcoma, spending the majority of that time receiving treatment at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis. He lost his hair and a tremendous amount of weight. He missed school, completing homework assignments remotely, and his friends back home.
“I was not in a good place,” says Evan, who had to put his life and athletics on hold. “All I could do was take things day by day and just do what the doctors told me to do.”
By April 2006, Evan received his final surgery — mainly to make sure there was no remaining tumor tissue left — and he had finished chemo. Now 15, he finally felt like his normal self and was eager to start living a normal teenage life again. More than anything, he wanted to get back to playing sports and decided to compete in the St. Jude Half Marathon in Memphis later that year.
He not only competed — he placed 11th in his age group.
Evan went on to play soccer and baseball in high school and ran track and cross-country throughout his teenage years. It wasn’t until college at Louisiana Tech University, however, that he started getting into triathlons and long-distance sports.
“A friend of mine convinced me to start biking with him,” he says. “From there I thought, ‘well, I guess I could start swimming, too, and do triathlons.’”
What started as a hobby shortly became a “bucket list” goal.
“I always looked up to the athletes who compete in Ironmans — it was something that I always wanted to do,” Evan says. “There was also some level of wanting to prove to myself that, after everything I’d been through with cancer, I could do it.”
After graduating college, Evan worked to make his dream a reality. For six months he trained — waking up before dawn each day to squeeze his workouts in while working full-time as a mechanical engineer.
“The treatment that I received at St. Jude enabled me to have a full life and helped me get to the point where I can do these things,” he says. “I’m just really thankful to the doctors and nurses and staff and everybody that was a part of helping me get through that.”
In 2017, he crossed the finish line of Ironman Texas. And another at Ironman Chattanooga in 2018. Today, at 29, Evan now has his sights set on Ironman Louisville.
“Hopefully, this inspires other cancer survivors to know that if you set your mind to something, you can achieve it,” he says. “
To help Evan and other osteosarcoma survivors like him, please donate to OSI today.