Darrell's Story

This grandpa is a two-time survivor

Darrell Sapp is the kind of grandpa any kid would love to have.

He’s dedicated to his family. He models what it means to be a hard worker. And, at 48, he’s plenty young to keep up with his five active grandkids.

“Oh my, do I love my grandbabies!” Darrell said.

Darrell is here today to experience being a grandfather because Boone Hospital Center helped him beat cancer twice during the last ten years.

His first experience with cancer was in 2004. He had noticed a lump on the right side of his neck, under his jawbone. It was about the size of a walnut.

He wasn’t too concerned.

“I’ve had lumps before and it was just allergies or drainage,” he said. “It was just something that happens.”

Darrell went to a doctor and got some antibiotics. When those didn’t help, he was sent to Boone hospital to have the lump biopsied. It was just 30 minutes later when the doctor called him at home — it was cancer.

“I was home alone, everyone else was at work and he gave me the bad news,” Darrell said. “I had not thought it was cancer at all. It floored me.”

Darrell had what’s known as squamous cell carcinoma, a cancer at the base of his tongue.

He immediately started treatment, which involved dozens of radiation sessions and several rounds of chemotherapy.

It was a dark time for Darrell. He lost a lot of weight and became dehydrated. As he became more ill, he was afraid of sleeping, he thought he might die in his sleep.

He relied on his family and the caregivers at Boone Hospital to pull him through.

“It was really hard to stay positive. I tried to, but it was really hard,” he said. “I was lucky to have a great support group, my wife, my parents, my doctors and the nursing staff.”

A recreational weight lifter, Darrell said his strength also helped keep him alive.

“I work out and lift weights,” he said. “My doctors told me on a number of occasions, if I wouldn’t have done that, it may have been a different outcome.”

After defeating his tongue cancer, life returned to normal for Darrell — for the most part.

The cancer battle left him with scarring. He also lost some hair and has to drink water when he eats because he doesn’t produce enough saliva any more. But those are things Darrell can live with.

“It becomes an everyday way of life and you adjust to it,” he said.

Then last year Darrell was faced with another challenge. He had a prostate exam and his PSA score was high. He had prostate cancer.

Working with urologist Dr. Steven Dresner, MD, Darrell had his prostate removed through robotic surgery.

Today, he’s again cancer free.

After two cancer battles in the last 10 years, Darrell sometimes wonders if he is genetically predisposed to cancer. Since he was adopted as a baby, he doesn’t know his family’s cancer history.

As a preventative step, he gets cancer screenings more often than most people. And if cancer does come back, he knows he has an outstanding community of caregivers at Boone Hospital ready to care for him.

But that thought isn’t high on his mind.

He’s too busy enjoying his life and focusing on what matters most —loving his family, especially those grandbabies. 

Stewart Cancer Center
573.815.CURE (2873)

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