Through My Eyes: Osteosarcoma Survivor Thrives in College After Battling Cancer
Written by Riley Holleran (ISF Marketing Intern)
“Through My Eyes” is a series in which those affected by childhood cancer share a behind-the-scenes look into the ripple effect cancer has in their lives. Our goal is to raise $50,000 for rare pediatric cancer research in the month of September. Become aware, give monthly or donate. [Presented by Atrium Health Levine Children’s]
- Perspective: Young adult fighting cancer
- Name: Michael Alfers, 20 years old
- Cancer: Osteosarcoma
- Diagnosed: May 2017 at 17 years old
- Treated at: Atrium Health Levine Children’s
17, High School senior, and Osteosarcoma Warrior:
3.5.2017 was the beginning of a different kind of journey for Michael Alfers, even though he was not fully aware of it. The knee pain started, but like many growing 17 year old athletes, he and his family thought he had suffered a sports injury. As the pain grew increasingly worse and multiple trips to different doctors came up with no answers, an MRI was scheduled.
May 2017 was the month that changed everything. He thought he would be getting an MRI to address a sports injury from competitive bowling, but everything changed when Dr. Pope and Dr. Patt, at Levine Children’s, informed Michael he had Osteosarcoma. A week later a biopsy confirmed the heart wrenching news. A port was put in and Chemotherapy began only days later.
Michael went from being fully enrolled in highschool, competitively bowling, and being an active teenage kid, to undergoing chemotherapy within weeks. He had leg salvage surgery, where the doctors implanted a titanium piece to replace his knee and a large part of his femur. Although he missed attending class his senior year, he was still able to walk across the stage and graduate with his classmates at the end of the year. 4 months post chemo he was back in his bowling shoes and has been in remission since 2018! Michael is currently 20 years old and aspires to be an accountant.
400. That is the number of children under the age of 20 diagnosed with osteosarcoma every year. Osteosarcoma is form of bone cancer. In children and young adults, osteosarcoma usually starts in areas where the bone is growing quickly, such as near the ends of the leg or arm bones.
Just throw your leg out there:
His doctor used to say, “just throw your leg out there” and it was what helped him to gain the courage to learn to walk again and try even harder in physical therapy.
Michael used humour and an extremely positive attitude to push through his chemotherapy treatment. His positive demeanor and humour helped to guide him through his osteosarcoma battle. While he was missing a very sentimental and memory filled year at school as a high school senior, he still managed to keep others laughing and his head held high.
“Always try to keep a positive attitude. There is light at the end of the tunnel!”
Michael wants other people to understand, no matter what they are in a battle against, the power of a positive attitude and how a smile, laugh, and a bit of humor during hard times can go a long way. He knew how important it was for his recovery and he wants other people to understand that as well. Michael said, “Take it one day at a time and try to do everything in your power that will help beat osteosarcoma.” Michael wants to encourage those going through the same battle to do everything they can do to fight, but also be patient with themselves. His mom credits his positivity and his faith for getting him through the hardest time in his life. Sharyn Alfers, Michael’s mom, says, “Michael’s faith in God and trust in his doctors, combined with his positive attitude and sense of humor, guided him through his battle with osteosarcoma.”
The Alfers family also kept a very grateful and faithful heart, even during an earth shattering time, where it would be easier to ask “why us?” They constantly expressed gratitude to and for all of the doctors, nurses, physical therapists and medical staff that joined them in Michael’s fight. His nurses, doctors, and of course members of his family were there to see him ring the bell to signify the end of his chemotherapy.
Michael could not attend his senior year in person, but he continued to see the light at the end of the tunnel and was able to walk across the stage and receive his high school diploma.
Michael is now a junior in college at UNCC, majoring in accounting. He has follow up oncology visits every 3 months. He is an active young adult playing golf, competitively bowling, and recently taking up frisbee golf as well.
Michael also wants others to know, “Keep fighting the battle! You will get through this!”
Having Family in the Fight:
“You never expect that your child is going to be diagnosed with cancer, it’s earth shattering when you hear those words. He endured pain that most of us will never experience, and it was heartbreaking to see. Michael is a true warrior, our hero.”
His entire family was distraught, along with Michael, when they found out he was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma. While his family is not the ones with cancer, cancer impacts everyone close to it. This was their battle to help Michael fight. He went from strong, active, and healthy to intense pain and illness within weeks. They wanted to take the pain from him, but they knew they had to fight for and with Michael. Some days they would have to fight for him and some days it would be with him, but regardless they were never leaving his side.
Michael’s family was with him through the entirety of his battle of Osteosarcoma. His mom, Sharyn, and Dad, Bill, were there each step of the journey. Michael is the middle child of 3. His older brother Matthew just graduated from UNC Chapel Hill and his younger sister Nicole just started 8th grade. His family was there to share in the trials and tribulations, but also the triumphs of the journey. They were there to hold him up and to cheer him on. They are Michael’s largest support system and always have been. While Michael’s strength and perseverance were a huge part of what got him through his cancer treatment, the constant support of his network was so important. From family to friends to medical personnel to the hospital staff, Michael had a long list of people helping him fight the battle of a lifetime.
*Photos courtesy of Sharyn, Michael’s mom. Photos were taken before the coronavirus pandemic and may not reflect current health and safety policies.
*** THROUGH MY EYES: THIS IS CHILDHOOD CANCER SERIES