Being able to coach his daughters’ soccer teams was not something Andy Hanson was sure he’d ever get to do.
The former Crystal Lake man had been diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia at age 22, and doctors weren’t sure whether the treatment would wipe out his ability to have children.
But 20 years later, the cancer is still gone, and Hanson and his wife, Cher, have three girls, Macie, 10; McKenna, 8; and Norah, 6.
“Anyone that goes through that type of diagnosis always has a different attitude on life afterward,” Cher Hanson said. “He’s always the one trying to get me to calm down. With three kids, it gets a little crazy sometimes, but [he reminds me] not to worry about the small stuff.”
Hanson, who now lives in Wauconda, goes in for his 20th annual exam in a couple of weeks, and he’s not nervous – not at this point.
“After years, those got easier and easier and more like a little bit of a celebration almost, seeing my doctor and some of the nurses and all of the people that supported me,” he said.
‘Really bad sinus infection’
Hanson was staying with his parents in Crystal Lake, home from college on an internship. He was just wrapping up a degree in criminal justice at Truman State University in Kirksville, Missouri.
He wasn’t feeling well. He had lost some weight. The doctor thought perhaps it was just a really bad sinus infection and sent him home with medicine and instructions to call if things didn’t get better.
“I literally couldn’t walk up even a couple of stairs without getting so out of breath that I thought I was going to pass out,” he said. “One night my parents got home, and my heart felt it was going to beat out of my chest.”
They ended up at the Good Shepherd emergency room, and eventually he was diagnosed at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
He still has the single double-sided sheet of paper his doctor at Northwest gave him that outlined the next two years of his life.
“From that point on, after the shock wore off and the tears stopped, it was kind of like being in sports and being competitive: This is the plan,” Hanson said. “While it was scary, at least we knew the path, and two years did seem like an extremely long time to survive this.”
Helping ‘families that really need him’
Being able to step back from the ups and downs of treatment is some of the advice that Hanson passes along to other cancer patients and their families.
Hanson served on the Leukemia Research Foundation’s Board of Directors for nearly 20 years and was its president from 2009 to 2012.
He stepped down from the board this past year to take a breather.
Hanson and his parents, Charles and Ellen Hanson, who still live in Crystal Lake, got involved with the group and started a chapter for the foundation, Andy’s Chapter of Hope, as a way to pay back all the people that supported them during Hanson’s treatment, he said.
Family and friends brought over meals. The Relay for Life at Crystal Lake Central High School – Hanson graduated from Crystal Lake South – quadrupled the number of attendees at that year’s event. There were cards and visitors. A fundraiser was held to benefit his family.
“Right from the beginning, my family had a lot of support,” Hanson said. “I had a lot of support. ... It was just overwhelming to a degree, all the support we were given. There was really no way to pay all those people back.”
Over the years, Hanson’s chapter has raised about $1.5 million for research. His goal is to raise $20,000 in honor of his 20th year of surviving cancer.
“I’m one of the people that always thinks everything happens for a reason,” Cher Hanson said. “What he went through was hard for him and his family, but the impact that he’s had on other families because of that is to me pretty remarkable. Just to see how he can relate to other families who really need him at that certain time when they’ve just got diagnosed or need help finding treatment.”
Andy’s Chapter of Hope will be holding its 15th annual Megan Cooper Memorial Golf Outing, named in honor of a Crystal Lake girl who died from complications related to her leukemia treatment shortly before her ninth birthday.
The event raises money for the Leukemia Research Foundation and will be held July 21 at the RedTail Golf Course in Lakewood.
For information about the fundraiser and Andy’s Chapter of Hope, visit www.leukemia-hope.org.