As Chris Sanderson's battle with brain cancer winds down, tributes are flowing in for one of Canada's most world-renowned lacrosse players.
Sanderson, who made his name first as a goaltender at the University of Virginia before leading Canada's national teams through four world championships, was diagnosed with brain cancer in October 2008. After an epic fight that's spanned almost four years, and ups and downs that included an amazing comeback to play for the national team again in 2010, word comes out of New Jersey that Sanderson's fight could soon be reaching an end.
In a medical update titled "Time to say goodbye," Sanderson's wife Brogann wrote Monday that the focus is now on Chris's comfort in his final days.
"I do not know exactly what Chris is thinking or feeling, but it is pretty clear that he has made the decision to end this battle on his terms, regardless of suffering. He is still conscious but minimally responsive, and I just pray that feels little pain and so much love."
Sanderson's plight was chronicled in Eh Game last summer, as former pupil and Team Canada teammate Kyle Miller organized a fundraiser for Sanderson's care. But the battle that Sanderson's mounted since 2008 is nothing short of incredible.
Despite numerous surgeries and extensive treatments, Sanderson, 38, seemed to beat the odds over and over. First, he returned to the bench as a coach with the Philadelphia Wings of the National Lacrosse League. Then, in 2010, he made it onto the professional Toronto Nationals of Major League Lacrosse, before returning to team Canada for the world championships, where he was named the tournament's top goaltender. He skipped chemotherapy treatment to play for his country.
"I wanted people to know I gave…everything I could to help Canada win, to help us win," he said, choking back tears, in an interview with the CBC that year.
Sanderson's path as a trailblazer, first at Virginia and then through his professional career and his True North lacrosse camps in New Jersey, meant a lacrosse footprint unrivaled by any Canadian before him. His incredible second-half performance in the 1998 world championship final gave Canada hope against the dominant Americans, forming the roots of a national team program that culminated with Canada's 2006 world championship win — the first time the Americans had lost in 28 years (check back Friday for more on that game).
Sanderson's statistics are well-known in the lacrosse community, but it was his personality that left the most lasting impact on those who knew him. That may have been the hardest part of his cancer battle: the endless treatments and fluctuations in prognosis led to periods of frustration and depression for a man known to all as gregarious, funny, and ever-welcoming. Brogann Sanderson tirelessly documented Chris's fight through his CaringBridge page, allowing observers from afar to walk each step through the battle; it was fitting that she used the same page to signal to his friends and admirers that the fight is now nearing its end.
Almost immediately, tributes began to pour in, both on the CaringBridge site, and on Twitter and Facebook. Below, a sampling of those comments, as the lacrosse world prepares to bid adieu to one of its greatest players and people.