Cancer, community and football: How the Sanders family is making a difference

Meet Andre the Warrior.

When Andre Sanders, better known as Andre the Warrior, was diagnosed with cancer, the community rallied around him.

That was in the summer of 2019. Andre was four years old.

Alexandra “Alex” and Rich Sanders, Andre’s parents, had just relocated to Florida. Amidst the chaos of Hurricane Dorian, Andre came down with symptoms.

“We had taken him to the ER that first night. They told us it was probably a stomach virus, but he did not get better. So, we went back to another ER,” said Alex. “They thought it was appendicitis, and then they found the kidney tumor.”

Andre the Warrior

Andre was diagnosed with Stage IV Wilms tumor, which had metastasized to his lung.

Alex had previously worked as an oncology nurse at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, and she knew there was nowhere else she wanted her son to be treated. So, they moved their family back to Buffalo to ensure Andre had access to the best care possible.

Andre underwent several rounds of radiation and nine months of chemotherapy before ringing the Victory Bell in May 2020.

Today, Andre is seven years old, a lover of all sports and – most importantly – cancer free. 

Reflecting on Andre’s journey.

“Our Buffalo community just wrapped their arms around us,” said Alex, while looking back on Andre’s cancer journey.

Friends, loved ones and even strangers stepped in to help cover the cost of Andre’s treatment, and that’s something Alex and Rich will never forget. 

“We reflected on all the help and all the monetary support we got from people when Andre’s chemotherapy and radiation was going on,” Rich remembered. “So, we looked around to see what our greatest need was during that situation, and it was finances.”

With a mission to serve other families like their own, Alex and Rich combined a passion and a need – bringing their idea of the 4 Quarter Fight to life.

4 Quarter Fight.

“I played football. The family loves football. Andre is obsessed with football. We figured why not do a football fundraiser in Buffalo where it’s a football town and everybody likes football,” said Rich. “So, we decided to do a flag football tournament.”

Alex and Rich partnered with local businesses and organizations that wanted to make a difference in the fight against childhood cancer. They encouraged businesses to sponsor teams and donate raffle items.

After months of planning, the first 4 Quarter Fight was held on September 24, 2022, at the North Amherst Recreation Center.

In addition to the eight teams in the tournament, there was a special game for Andre and his brother.

“That way we could have his friends and some of the kids whom he’s met along the way be involved and have their own little game,” said Rich.

In that first year, the event was a huge success — and next year, they want to make an even bigger impact.

Planning is already underway — especially for Andre!

“Every month, he tells me something that he wants to add to his event and have next year at his event,” Rich laughed.

Two kids high fiving on the field at 4 Quarter Fight
Teenage player at 4 Quarter Fight
Players at the 4 Quarter Fight
Player throwing the ball at the 4 Quarter Fight

Tips and Takeaways.

Organizing a new Team Roswell event takes time, dedication and creativity, but there is support each step of the way.

Alex and Rich say one of their main takeaways is to start earlier and delegate more. For 2023, they plan to form a committee to divvy up responsibilities.

For newcomers, they both suggest volunteering at existing events to get a feel for things in advance.

“Connect with the people who put events on and take notes of what they do and what is exciting to you, what catches your attention, and ask questions,” Rich added.

The Biggest Win.

While putting on the 4 Quarter Fight was no easy feat, the incredible reward is what makes Alex and Rich eager to grow the event year after year.  

“We had fellow friends from clinic come to the event and also families who have lost their angels. This is for them, and they are the why. I have specific memories of seeing those faces there and that’s what motivates me to do this,” said Alex.

Are you ready to make a difference, too?

Friends of Carly’s White Party to celebrate 10th anniversary

“You just dance the night away and know you're doing it for good.”

That’s how White Party co-founder Chrissy Jacobi describes the unforgettable Buffalo event. The White Party is an annual celebration that takes place every summer where guests dress in — you guessed it — all white! Proceeds from the party benefit Roswell Park’s Courage of Carly Fund, which fuels pediatric cancer research and provides quality-of-life programs to help brave kids fighting cancer and blood disorders.

“We really try to keep it high energy and fun. We want people to come back the next year and do it all over again and raise that money all over again. So that’s been our goal since day one,” said Chrissy.

That ‘day one’ was back in 2012 — and the first event looked a little different than it does today.

Looking back.

Guests at the 2022 White Party
Guests enjoying the silent auction at the 2022 White Party

The White Party started as an idea between Chrissy and her longtime friend John Ticco. At the time, they were two young professionals looking for a way to give back.

Carly Collard Cottone, who inspired the Courage of Carly Fund, was one of John’s close family friends. Learn more about Carly’s story here.

“Looking back to that first event, a gift-gathering party, John kind of did it on a whim. He threw it together in about three weeks and gathered some gifts for the kids. It probably raised around $2,500. It’s definitely not an easy thing to do,” Chrissy explained. “But throughout the years we’ve got it to a well-oiled machine. I have a great team that helps me, and we were able to build it to what it is today.”

10 years of giving back.

Today, the event has grown into a summer highlight in Buffalo, bringing in celebrities like former NFL superstars Rob Gronkowski and Fred Jackson, and reality TV personality Jason Tartick. Most importantly, the White Party continues to raise critically needed funds — $70,000 in 2022 alone — for the Courage of Carly Fund

Chrissy says in the time she’s been running this event, the cause has become very personal for her.

“I’ve met so many different people and families going through this, and it just it breaks my heart. I want to do whatever I can do to help and support them.”

With summer 2023 comes a major milestone for the White Party.

“This year is going to be a big one,” Chrissy explained. “It’s year 10. We’re going to try to make this the biggest, best White Party that we’ve had yet!”

Band performing at the White Party
Basket raffle items at the White Party
People dancing at the White Party

Getting involved.

Prior to starting her own fundraiser, Chrissy volunteered at existing Roswell Park events to get an idea of what running one would entail.

“That’s really how I got involved, and then I became so passionate about it. I wanted to do it on my own.”

She also stressed the importance of starting small, and not being afraid to get your toes wet. Everyone starts somewhere, and growth happens over time.

While throwing the White Party, or any Team Roswell event, is not a small feat, Chrissy says the most rewarding part is seeing where the funds go and how their efforts are helping kids and families during what could be the toughest time in their lives. She says if you’re dedicated and passionate about what you’re doing, you too can make a real difference.

Group photo at the White Party in 2022.

Committed to Making a Difference: Check out The 11 Day Power Play

A Call to Action

For the Lesakowski family, a battle with cancer turned into a call to action. That call to action turned into The 11 Day Power Play, Team Roswell’s largest community fundraiser.

The 11 Day Power Play, Inc. was founded by Mike and Amy Lesakowski in 2016. Eight years earlier, Amy was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer.

“I was 35 when I was diagnosed, and we had three small children all under the age of 10,” said Amy. “Obviously it’s a shock for anyone who gets diagnosed … we were fortunate enough to know to come to Roswell Park because it’s the best place you can get treatment.”

Amy participated in a three-year clinical trial through Roswell and has been in remission ever since. “I did everything that Roswell suggested, and I’m happy to still be here,” she explained.

While Amy survived her cancer diagnosis, Mike’s mother was not as fortunate. She passed away after being diagnosed with lung cancer in 2013. Through their grief and mourning, they found a renewed sense of purpose and a desire to serve and support other families on their cancer journeys.

The 11 Day Power Play Is Born

This photo shows hockey players sitting on the bench at The 11 Day Power Play
two hockey players hugging at The 11 Day Power Play

Mike and Amy came up with the idea for The 11 Day Power Play based on their personal connection to Roswell Park and their love of hockey. The event, which took place for the first time on June 22 – July 2, 2017, aimed to set the world record for the longest continuous hockey game. Forty men lived onsite and played hockey nonstop for 11 days. That first fundraiser alone raised more than $1 million for Roswell Park.

Mike and Amy also know that while not every hockey player has the availability and resources to devote 11 days to the Power Play, many still want to be a part of the movement. Thus, the 11 Day Power Play Community Shift was created. The Community Shift event, which typically takes place in the summer, allows more people to get involved. Rather than committing to the entire 11 days, these participants can sign up to take three-hour shifts throughout the duration of the fundraiser. For these events, hundreds of players can be a part of the game – each with a $225 fundraising requirement. 

“Not only do we raise money for research, but we also want to raise awareness,” Amy emphasized.

More than 300 volunteers come out to support the Community Shift event every year. For Amy, the energy is unbeatable. “I always say everyone needs to experience the love at the rink,” she explained.

And the love off the rink, reflective in the funds raised to help the community, is evident as well. “The fact that our players are able to do what they do with their fundraising is just incredible,” said Amy.

Over the years, the event has continued to grow. To this day, more than $8.4 million has been raised by The 11 Day Power Play organization.

“Anything's possible. That's always our motto.”

This is a group photo from The 11 Day Power Play in November, 2021.

You, too, can make a difference in the lives of cancer patients. Whether you’ve been personally affected by cancer or know someone who has, we’re all in this together.

Team Roswell encompasses fundraisers of all sizes – and sometimes the best way to get your idea off the ground is starting small and setting achievable goals.

Amy encourages people who are interested in getting involved to try something new and not be afraid. She added, “Anything’s possible. That’s always our motto.”

Start your own Team Roswell fundraiser today or learn more about The 11 Day Power Play.