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Fight of his life: Sac State student battles rare cancer

Sacramento+State+student+Isaiah+Alexander+faced+a+difficult+path+when+he+was+diagnosed+with+stage+4+renal+medullary+carcinoma%2C+a+rare+and+highly+aggressive+form+of+cancer+which+affects+the+kidneys+and+typically+doesn%E2%80%99t+present+symptoms+until+the+advanced+stage.+Despite+the+challenges+presented+by+his+illness%2C+Alexander+chose+not+only+to+stay+in+school%2C+but+to+take+on+more.+%28Photo+by+Francisco+Medina%29
Sacramento State student Isaiah Alexander faced a difficult path when he was diagnosed with stage 4 renal medullary carcinoma, a rare and highly aggressive form of cancer which affects the kidneys and typically doesn’t present symptoms until the advanced stage. Despite the challenges presented by his illness, Alexander chose not only to stay in school, but to take on more. (Photo by Francisco Medina)

Sacramento State student Isaiah Alexander faced a difficult path when he was diagnosed with stage 4 renal medullary carcinoma, a rare and highly aggressive form of cancer which affects the kidneys and typically doesn’t present symptoms until the advanced stage. Despite the challenges presented by his illness, Alexander chose not only to stay in school, but to take on more. (Photo by Francisco Medina)

Sacramento State student Isaiah Alexander faced a difficult path when he was diagnosed with stage 4 renal medullary carcinoma, a rare and highly aggressive form of cancer which affects the kidneys and typically doesn’t present symptoms until the advanced stage. Despite the challenges presented by his illness, Alexander chose not only to stay in school, but to take on more. (Photo by Francisco Medina)

Barbara Harvey

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Isaiah Alexander vividly remembers the moment he was told he had incurable cancer.

It was on a Thursday during a particularly difficult week, he said.

Alexander, a 26-year-old Sac State student, had known something wasn’t right. But seeing as the high school football star was extraordinarily health-conscious, he never imagined that his symptoms were the result of a terminal illness.

When he had found blood in his urine, he worried that he had contracted an STD, but test results all came back negative. He decided to go to the doctor at the WELL, who recommended he contact his primary care provider.

Scans revealed a mass on his kidney.

His doctor informed him he had stage 4 renal medullary carcinoma, a rare and highly aggressive form of cancer which affects the kidneys and typically doesn’t present symptoms until the advanced stage.

Alexander was given two years to live.

“For three of four days, I couldn’t see my life. All my vision was just gone … I couldn’t create a vision. I couldn’t see myself in two years.” Alexander said.

Initially, Alexander shut it out. He found himself ignoring the reality of his illness.

“I wasn’t giving any energy to the fact that I was sick,” Alexander said. After speaking with his pastor, Alexander reconciled with his denial.

“ ‘There’s a difference between faith and denial,’ ” Alexander recalled his pastor telling him.

The treatment Alexander receives every other Friday has not been easy.

In September, a complication with his treatment left Alexander struggling to breathe due to a fluid build up in his lungs. As he struggled to maneuver the large campus, his hoverboard went from a fashion statement to a necessary crutch.

Despite the challenges presented by his illness, Alexander chose not only to stay in school, but to take on more.

“There’s things you can control and things you can’t control. A lot of times we worry about the things we can’t control and that keeps us from handling the things we can control,” Alexander said. “Being able to eliminate the distractions with the situation I’m in is a blessing. It’s a challenge, for sure — it’s not easy.”

Longtime friend and Sac State student Julius Wellington noted that Alexander’s refusal to slow down after the diagnosis is a testament to his drive.

“It speaks volumes. A lot of people would relax and just be with as many friends and family as possible,” Wellington said. “He doesn’t give up. It could be sports, basketball — he’s fighting till the end. Playstation, whatever. At the end of the day, it’s going to be a challenge because he’s not going to let you win.”

Wellington has found inspiration in Alexander’s cancer struggle.

“He’s half the reason why I work as hard as I do, just because I know that if he can do it, then there’s no reason for anybody else to say they can’t do it,” Wellington said.

It’s not denial that keeps Alexander going — he speaks in frank terms and unemotionally about his prognosis. Rather, it’s a rejection of the idea that he should put his ambitions and goals to rest simply because of his illness.

In fact, he says, the prognosis only served to “speed (him) up.”

As a full-time student and vice president of the Black Student Union, Alexander’s schedule is far from relaxed. In addition, he spends much of his time pursuing various business ventures, including a line of fashion-forward fanny packs, which he calls “straps.” Alexander hopes to expand the brand to include luggage.

“I could choose to let this put me in a depressive state and make me think my life is over. But that’s boring. That ain’t no fun. I’m not trying to mope around, I’m trying to live. But it’s a choice.”

A GoFundMe campaign organized to raise money for Alexander to receive specialized treatment at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston has raised nearly $16,000 and has been shared over 3,000 times since it launched May 6.

Despite the grim prognosis, Alexander seems to only deal in optimism.

“Once this fight is won … I want to help other young people dealing with these serious rare cancer cases,” the page’s description reads.

Alexander says his faith has been strengthened by his illness.

“There’s no fear in me. Whatever step I take, God takes with me.”

Above all, though, the illness has changed how Alexander views the future.

“(Before), I wasn’t thinking about how right now is important. Later isn’t promised. What are we going to do right now that’s going to bring us closer to what we want?

“Today is more important than tomorrow.”

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Barbara Harvey

Barbara Harvey is the co-Editor-in-Chief at The State Hornet and a junior at Sacramento State, where she majors in journalism. She joined The State Hornet in the fall of 2016 as a News Editor. She enjoys writing about crime, politics and interesting people. Barbara can be reached at [email protected] or [email protected]

16 Comments

16 Responses to “Fight of his life: Sac State student battles rare cancer”

  1. Mirela Bote on December 2nd, 2016 6:16 pm

    Thanks for the inspiring article, Barbara.

  2. Julie Harris on December 2nd, 2016 7:24 pm

    Isaiah your strength, courage,Faith and determination to live is truly inspiring and uplifting, I love you and am inspired to “live”.

  3. Camille Butler on December 2nd, 2016 7:42 pm

    Someone please share this petition with his family.
    https://www.change.org/p/president-of-the-united-states-together-we-can-help-fight-a-disease-impacting-sickle-cell-trait-carriers
    #rmcsupport
    #journeytohappiness

  4. Leinaala Warren on December 4th, 2016 9:19 am

    God is in control ALWAYS. Isaiah our prayers are with you and your family. You are a great example to all of us.

    I have seven children (6 adults now and 1 16 year old) three have sickle cell trait. I have been told since their birth (by doctors) that this trait will have absolutely no impact on the lives) that is not true. Every child with sickle cell trait that may have blood in his/her urine should be given an ultrasound. There is a way to catch RMC early enough to extend life. Advocacy is very much need, awareness and knowledge is needed asap. It is just so sad to here of all these young amazing folks succumbing to this disease.

  5. Tonya Bealey on December 4th, 2016 8:51 pm

    Isaiah WE LOVE YOU DEARLY!! You have Always been STRONG . GODS WILL, IN GODS TIME. Keep Faith and be the BEST you can Be.

  6. Princess Mitchell on December 5th, 2016 11:52 pm

    Beautiful story about a beautiful soul. God bless you Zay ❤

  7. Eli on December 7th, 2016 11:35 pm

    Might want to try a cannabis oil treatment. Stop all sugar intake, and raise your alkaline in your body. Google rick simpson tears of Phoenix, google dr. Sebi diet. Goood luck!

  8. CAMILLE BUTLER on March 12th, 2017 7:28 pm

    How is Isiah doing? Praying daily!

  9. Denee on April 30th, 2017 7:51 am

    RIP my friend….you’ve won your battle, now Rest In Him!!!

  10. Celia on May 25th, 2017 12:28 am

    I held onto this petition to make a donation at my monthly payroll, and checked it to see how he’s doing only to scroll and see he passed away. I’m sorry he left us sooner than he expected to, his message was heartening. I’m sad to’ve missed out and am glad he was full of sunshine facing his diagnosis. God Bless him and his loved ones.

  11. Aley on May 1st, 2017 6:43 am

    RIP Isiah… You will be missed

  12. Campus community mourns loss of ‘caring, loving’ student – The State Hornet on May 1st, 2017 5:39 pm

    […] communication studies major, was the vice president of the Black Student Union and the subject of a profile in The State Hornet last December in which he discussed his battle with the aggressive cancer that […]

  13. Rebecca on May 1st, 2017 5:53 pm

    Thank you for this fine story about Isiah, which now has become a beautiful testament to his memory. Rest in peace, Isaiah. You gave this life the best you had.

  14. Friends remember beloved student at campus tribute – The State Hornet on May 7th, 2017 7:55 pm

    […] was diagnosed with the rare form of cancer and doctors estimated that he had two years to live. Cancer did not […]

  15. Top 5 stories of the year – The State Hornet on May 10th, 2017 5:37 pm

    […] The State Hornet first profiled Isaiah Alexander in the fall semester of 2016, he was 26 years old, and had already been told he […]

  16. Project Optimism celebrates members with first Black & White Gala – The State Hornet on July 14th, 2017 7:32 pm

    […] providing food for over 200 homeless people in Sacramento and a Skate for a Cause fundraiser for Isaiah Alexander, a student and vice president of Black Student Union at Sac State who was diagnosed with a rare […]

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Fight of his life: Sac State student battles rare cancer