Won't Back Down: Lacrosse Rallies for Sanderson, Miller

By: Sarah Bartlett-Cahill, March 18, 2016

Won't Back Down: Lacrosse Rallies for Sanderson, Miller

It was a rainy, muggy day as the battle dragged on between Team Canada and Team USA in the final game of the 2006 FIL World Championship. Kyle Miller, an Orangeville, Ontario, native and Cornell grad, was splitting time in goal with Chris Sanderson, another Orangeville native, and Miller’s mentor, appearing in net for Canada for the third time. Miller, just twenty-four years old at the time, had already faced many a personal battle and triumphed in the face of adversity. In 2003, during his junior year at Cornell, Kyle was diagnosed with osteogenic sarcoma, a form of bone cancer, when he suffered an injury to his left leg on the field. It was the same type of cancer that had taken the life of Canadian athlete Terry Fox, who ran the Marathon of Hope to raise awareness for cancer research in 1980.  Just two years later, after undergoing chemotherapy and extensive leg surgery that left him with eight inches of steel in his tibia, Miller was not only back on the field at Cornell, but sharing goal with his mentor as he fulfilled his dream as a member of the Canadian National Team. Team Canada would go on to triumph over Team USA 15-10 in overtime, winning the gold for Canada for the first time in 28 years. 

Miller would go on to win four Ivy League Championships with Cornell before retiring from the sport to become a motivational speaker, traveling coast to coast with his “Beat It” campaign and inspiring others with his story of positivity, passion, and personal success. Miller focused his efforts on young school children, who loved his enthusiasm and excitement, and whom he felt he could really connect with.

Sanderson would continue his standout career with the Philadelphia Wings of the National Lacrosse League, first as a player for five seasons, before acting as an assistant coach for the organization.

Many of you in the lacrosse world know what happens next.

In December of 2008, Sanderson was diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer and given six to twelve months to live. At the time, he was acting as an assistant coach for the Philadelphia Wings, a position he had held since 2005. As fate would have it, one of his players just so happened to be Brandon Miller, Kyle’s older brother, who had joined the Wings in 2008. Kyle, Brandon, and countless others in the lacrosse community soon rallied together for Sanderson’s cause, raising money to offset his growing medical bills and acting as a support system to the man who had given them, and their game, so much.

Despite all odds, Sanderson would go on to appear in goal for Team Canada for the fourth time, tending goal in the 2010 World Games, and earning the title of Comeback Player of the Year by Lacrosse Magazine, all the while battling brain cancer. He continued to serve as an assistant coach for the Philadelphia Wings until 2011, allowing him to fuel his passion for lacrosse while teaching the game he loved to others.

Unfortunately, time would soon reveal that the struggles for both men were far from over.

In October of 2011, eight years after beating it the first time, Kyle Miller was diagnosed with a recurrence of osteocarcinoma when Stage 4 tumors were found in and supporting his left lung. He was forced to put his pledge to inspire others on hold, as he was faced with four rounds of extensive chemotherapy.

A month later, in November of 2011, an MRI also showed signs that a tumor in Chris Sanderson’s brain had not only come back, but was growing.

Just as they had in the past, various charitable organizations and individuals in the lacrosse community continued to work effortlessly for the cause, now, not only for Sanderson, but for Miller.

Among those individuals was Philadelphia Wings and Charlotte Hounds player Steve Panarelli, who had played for Chris alongside Kyle’s brother, Brandon, at the Wings. Panarelli and his clothing company Reversible Lifestyle created shorts representing the two players, with a portion of the proceeds going toward both Miller and Sanderson.

Tracey Happold-Brown, a lifelong lacrosse fan and Philadelphia area teacher, also felt compelled to get involved. Tracey, an English teacher at Avon Grove High School, experienced a series of losses in a community hit hard. In just six months, four teachers at Avon Grove High School passed away from various forms of cancer; three of which were in her department, and one of whom was her best friend. Tracey and her husband were both lacrosse players in college, she herself a two-time All American, and had been season ticket holders of the Wings for thirteen years. Having known Sanderson as both a player and a coach, and coming to learn Miller’s story as a result of their involvement with the Wings, it was only a matter of time before Tracey felt compelled to do her part.

Tracey has since donated a great deal of her time and energy organizing fundraisers and raising awareness for the cause. In both 2011 and 2012 Tracey worked with the Wings and their Equipment Manager Mike Fox to organize a jersey auction, the most recent having taken place at this year’s February 12th game against the Buffalo Bandits. The jerseys featured the players’ twitter names and were colored teal and pearl, to represent ovarian and lung cancer, which had taken the lives of two of the teachers at Avon Grove. In conjunction with the auction, Tracey sold 300 tickets to the Wings/Bandits game, and ended up raising upwards of $13,000 when all was said and done.

The proceeds were presented at a second fundraiser the following month (March 2012), one which Tracey had organized independently at McFadden’s in Downtown Philadelphia, and were split amongst the American Cancer Society (80%), Chris Sanderson (10%), and Kyle Miller (10%). At that second fundraiser, with the help of Philadelphia area sponsors, almost $4,000 was raised in addition to the jersey auction, with half of all proceeds going toward Sanderson and half going toward Miller.

Tracey, along with her husband and two children, also worked alongside Mike Fox and former Bandits’ Equipment Manager John Craig at this past summer’s Powerball Tournament, filling water bottles and keeping the guys safe and hydrated. Reebok was one of the sponsors of the inaugural event, and the “Reebok Blacks Out Cancer” team was formed specifically to raise money for Sanderson and Miller. Lacrosse stars Dan Dawson and Brodie Merrill were instrumental in organizing the team, which consisted of both Canadian and American players, many of whom rearranged their schedules to take part. Team Reebok Blacks Out Cancer was successful in winning the $25,000 prize, which, along with corporate donations, would be donated to the cause.

However, despite numerous surgeries and a long, difficult battle, Sanderson’s condition quickly worsened, and he passed away a month before the event. On June 28, 2012, Chris Sanderson left behind his wife, Brogann, and two young daughters, Stevie and Clementine. He will forever be remembered as not only one of Canada’s best players, but one of the country’s greatest men – a role model both on and off the field.

Some months later, as fate would have it, Miller’s condition also took a turn for the worst. Despite three rounds of chemotherapy treatment, he has seen minimal reduction in tumor size and the tumors are too close to his lungs and arteries to undergo surgery. Not to mention, the tumors have reached his throat and he is barely able to speak. And, because Miller’s cancer is such a rare form, his doctors in both Canada and the U.S. have exhausted all of the resources at their disposal.                                           

Not one to back down in tough times, Kyle, along with his fiancée Vanessa, have not given up. In addition to blogging as a way to share their story and help ease their minds, the two have devoted much of their time to cancer research and have recently discovered Immunepheresis, a type of immunology treatment similar to dialysis. In Immunepheresis, the blood is filtered through the tumors that prevent chemotherapy drugs from attacking and killing cancer cells. Research has proven that this treatment has led to significant and rapid tumor reduction in its patients. Additionally, after speaking with the doctor who specializes in this treatment, the couple found that patients who were taking Votrient, the drug prescribed by Kyle’s doctors some months ago, have seen an even more dramatic change in the size of their tumors.

However, the treatment is only offered by American doctor and oncologist Dr. Rigdon Lentz, at his clinic in Prien, Germany. Not only would Kyle and Vanessa have to travel overseas to Germany for the three rounds of treatments, but neither Kyle’s Canadian Health Care nor his privatized American insurance company will cover the costs. At $60,000 per treatment, the cost is immense. Kyle’s Immunepheresis will cost the couple a staggering $180,000 out of pocket, and Kyle’s condition is more or less contingent on raising the money.

But we can help. The lacrosse community has continued to show their unwavering support for both Sanderson and Miller, and so can you. Whether you’re a player, coach, fan, or simply want to do your part, there are many ways to get involved.

On his website, KyleMiller35.com, Kyle and Vanessa are selling shirts, hats, and toques representing Miller’s inspirational “Beat It” campaign, a message he spread amongst others during his years of motivational speaking. There is also a “Beat It” Draw, a raffle taking place in January of 2013, which offers various prizes including vacations, electronics, and sports memorabilia, with all proceeds going toward Kyle’s medical bills.

You can also purchase the reversible shorts created by former teammate Steve Panarelli at Reversible Lifestyle, who has recently starting working with Tracey Happold-Brown, at her email address listed below. There are shorts representing both Miller and Sanderson individually, as well as a pair representing both players together. Those interested can also contact Tracey in regards to involvement with future fundraisers that may be coming up with the Philadelphia Wings organization. 

Kyle Miller will not back down. His passion, spirit, and strength are the mark of a man who has been through this before, and just as he’s Beat It once, he plans to Beat It again. This holiday season, consider giving back to a cause that is close to the hearts of many of us in the lacrosse world, not only for Miller, but for Sanderson, and for all of those suffering from illness.


The Reversible Lifestyle shorts are being sold for $25 (for pairs representing and Miller individually), and $40 (for a pair representing both) and can be purchased through Tracey Happold-Brown at shiplax@hotmail.com.

Tickets for the “Beat It” Draw are priced at $100 for a single ticket and $250 for a three-pack and can be purchased at www.KyleMiller35.com. Details on prices, drawing selection, and prize donations can also be found on that site.


About Major League Lacrosse

Major League Lacrosse (MLL), the premier professional outdoor lacrosse league, was founded by Jake Steinfeld and is headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts. Major League Lacrosse commenced play in June of 2001 and will enter its thirteenth season in 2013.  MLL has continued to lead the sport of lacrosse into the mainstream of competitive team sports. The league is made up of eight teams: The Boston Cannons, Charlotte Hounds, Chesapeake Bayhawks, Denver Outlaws, Hamilton Nationals, Long Island Lizards, Ohio Machine and Rochester Rattlers.

The 2013 MLL Collegiate Draft will take place on Friday, January 11, 2013 in Philadelphia, PA. This event will mark the thirteenth Collegiate Draft in MLL History and will take place during the 2013 US Lacrosse National Convention. For more information, please visit www.majorleaguelacrosse.com.