Tokay High School football coach Louis Franklin reaches into his pocket for his cellphone, and it emerges with a sticker on the back.
The sticker is of the folded ribbon made famous by cancer awareness campaigns, but this one is Tokay purple and has the initials “AS” on it. Several more are on Tokay football helmets as the team shows its support for lineman Andrae Sanchez Jr.
Sanchez was diagnosed with cancer when a mass was discovered around his brain earlier this fall. He played for the Tigers last year as a 6-foot, 253-pound junior and planned on returning this year. However, the illness worsened over the summer and he has only been able to watch his teammates.
Sanchez will be on the sidelines tonight as Tokay hosts the Granite Bay Grizzlies at the Grape Bowl in the first round of the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I playoffs.
“It means so much to me what all my teammates and friends and friends’ parents have done for me,” Sanchez said. “They are more than teammates. They are brothers.”
Trouble started for Sanchez in June when he and his family flew to Anaheim for a Disneyland trip. In fact, it was at the park that he got a sudden nosebleed that went on for close to 30 minutes. Sanchez chalked the incident up to a combination of allergies and the change of altitude from the plane ride.
The nosebleeds increased to every two weeks after that, and then every week. Eventually, his nose was bleeding every day. It was at the end of August, while he was with teammates, when a nosebleed came on that lasted for 2 1/2 hours.
Sanchez went to San Joaquin General Hospital, at that point after losing over a liter of blood. He saw a specialist in Lodi three days later, and polyps were the suspected problem.
A referral to UC Davis Medical Center was made, and doctors there continued running tests. By October, cancer was suspected and Sanchez was scheduled for surgery to remove the mass the day after Halloween.
“It was going to be a 16-hour surgery,” Sanchez said. “A neurosurgeon was going to cut open my head and remove all the tumor from around my brain. Another doctor was going cut part of my nostril and lip and remove some in my sinuses and behind my (left) eye. Another one was going to go in at my neck and get my lymph node.”
The plans changed as more test results began to come back and doctors recommended radiation and chemotherapy. It was also around this time that Sanchez says he started getting crippling headaches. The final diagnosis: Esthesioneuroblastoma, a tumor that begins in the nasal cavity.
Doctors Guido Broich, A.V. Pagliari and Francesco Ottaviani did a study in 1997 and found that since this type of tumor was discovered in 1924, only 945 reported cases have occurred.
Sanchez got his first round of chemotherapy on Nov. 1 and will receive three rounds every three weeks. He will receive radiation treatments five days a week for six to seven weeks.
Outside of sports, Sanchez loves contemporary dance and acting in local theater. He attends classes at Showstoppers Dance Studio on Commerce Street where friend and fellow dancer Julia Hernandez, a sophomore cheerleader at Tokay, practices.
“It is a little funny to watch a huge guy (at the studio) with a bunch of little girls,” Hernandez said. “But everyone loves being around him, and he has gotten a lot better from when he started.”
Sanchez says he is in good spirits now, but admits he struggled the most emotionally when doctors had trouble finding answers. He said there were moments when the stress from his ordeal caused him to be short-tempered with family members, a claim his father Andrae Sanchez Sr. confirmed, but takes some responsibility for.
“I think I’ve kind of driven Andrae crazy because I haven’t left his side,” Sanchez Sr. said. “Letting him go to the Edison (football) game last Friday was the first time we were away from each other since this whole thing started.”
Sanchez Jr. credits his faith for improving his outlook. He attends services at Remedy Church on Central Avenue on Tuesdays, and Bear Creek Community Church on Lower Sacramento Road on Sundays.
Sanchez would not talk about his prognosis on Wednesday, but freely spoke about every other part of his ordeal. Sanchez says he had a 3.0 GPA his last quarter despite the whirlwind of events, and he is homeschooled now.
He was a section qualifier in wrestling last winter and competed in track as a thrower last spring. He will do neither this year, but plans on getting his diploma in the spring. After that, he will be studying dance at one of the area community colleges.
Before leaving for dance class Wednesday, Sanchez grabbed his cellphone from the table. There was no ribbon sticker visible on it. Only a little ways up his arm, the remains of the adhesive that held tubes in place while he received chemotherapy that day could be seen.
“People come up to me and say, ‘Oh, I’m so sorry,’” Sanchez said. “I tell them, ‘Don’t be sorry, this is God’s plan and there is a bigger picture to this.’ God doesn’t promise tomorrow — whether you’re sick or not.”