‘The biggest thing was staying positive’

After overcoming Burkitt lymphoma, Scott Vander Sloot aims to make his wish for a sports communications career come true.

If you’re looking for Scott Vander Sloot, check the broadcast booth at Ferris State University’s hockey games. You’ll find the 20-year-old Big Rapids senior providing color commentary via TV or radio.

It’s one of many stepping stones toward a career in sports communication.

When he graduates in Spring 2018, he’ll be debt-free, thanks to working multiple jobs, living at home and scholarships.

Even more important: He’ll be cancer-free, thanks to excellent medical care, good fortune and a positive attitude.

Vander Sloot is living his dream. But it’s a dream that almost didn’t come true.

Not a merry Christmas

In 2013, at age 15, Vander Sloot had severe pain in his right abdomen. At first, he and his family thought he probably had appendicitis.

That was until he had a CT scan.

The high school junior had developed a large mass, which turned out to be Burkitt lymphoma, a form of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The kind of pain he experienced was typical for this kind of fast-growing cancer, according to his doctor, Jessica Foley, MD, of the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital Pediatric Hematology-Oncology team.

Instead of unwrapping Christmas presents at home, Vander Sloot spent the holiday in Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. He underwent surgery to remove the mass, and a second surgery less than two weeks later due to complications.

Next, he had chemotherapy that made him lose his hair, his strength and 40 pounds.

But he didn’t lose his determination.

“My big thing was being healthy enough to play soccer my senior year of high school,” Vander Sloot said. “I was able to get back to that level and to go out on a high note … I scored more than 20 goals in my senior year.”

His other goal was keeping up with his studies.

“I really didn’t want to miss classes,” he said. “I got lucky. I only missed class when I was an inpatient (at the hospital). I didn’t like missing classes and getting behind.”

Not only did he graduate with the rest of his class, he even earned college credits that are helping him finish his university studies in three years instead of the usual four.

It’s no wonder that Dr. Foley calls him a “model patient.”

“It was just his incredibly positive attitude … I felt privileged to be his physician,” she said. “He’s lived at home to save money, he worked several jobs. He’s really this exemplary student and citizen, the kind of patient that really inspires you.”

His advice to others?

“For me, the biggest thing was staying positive through the whole experience. Being down wasn’t going to help.”

A smart wish

Like many kids with cancer, Vander Sloot made a wish through the Make-a-Wish Foundation. Although he could have requested a visit to ESPN studios or quality time with a famous athlete, he made a wish that could only be fulfilled with a healthy future: Tuition assistance for college.

It made a big impression on organizers of the 2015 Grand Rapids Make-a-Wish Foundation Gala, who named Scott the night’s MVP.

A highlight of the evening: Vander Sloot went onstage to interview Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who won gold medals for ice dancing at the 2014 Olympics.

It was the first of many sports interviews he hopes to do over the course of his career.

He was also promised an internship with WOOD-TV sportcaster Jack Doles, who met Vander Sloot at the Make-a-Wish gala.

That internship wrapped up a few weeks ago. Vander Sloot was on the ice after the Griffins won the Calder Cup. He attended the LPGA tournament. And he hung out with the WhiteCaps baseball team.

“It was more than I could have ever hoped for,” he said.

Next up? Vander Sloot is hoping to work for a news station, a professional sports team, or a university sports communication department. 

With his health, degree and determination, there’s little doubt that wish will come true, too.

Learn more about the nationally ranked care for children with cancer and blood disorders at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.

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