There are few people it hasn’t affected — a grandparent or relative, mother or father, brother or sister or daughter or son. Cancer has made itself known to nearly everybody in the world, and more times than not the results have been terminal.
But there are success stories, too. Some might even say miracles, of how a loved one defeated cancer. One such story involves a collegiate golfer at Utah State University named Chanse Godderidge, who for an extended period of time wasn’t sure he would ever get a "second Chanse" with golf or life.
In 2005, as a 16-year-old junior in high school, Godderidge was focused on golf and basketball. As the golf season wrapped up and he was preparing for basketball, he knew something was physically off. What he didn’t know was how badly his life was about to be turned upside down.
In early November 2005, Godderidge saw a local doctor and was instructed to go immediately to Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City. In less than 24 hours, he and his family received the grim diagnosis.
Godderidge had severe aplastic anemia, a disease that causes bone marrow to slow down its production of blood cells — the red blood cells that carry oxygen, the white blood cells that fight infection and the platelets that help clot blood and control bleeding.
“I didn’t really know what to think,” Godderidge said. “I knew something was wrong just because I’d felt so bad for so long, but I didn’t know what it could be.”
Without quick treatment, severe aplastic anemia can progress and become fatal. The two most common treatments are immunosuppressive therapy and a bone marrow transplant. Luckily, the disease has a much better prognosis today than it has in years past.
From that point on, Godderidge started making regular visits to the infusion center at Primary Children’s and Logan Regional Hospital to receive transfusions of red blood cells and platelets. He was instructed to stay away from crowds and wear a mask to reduce the risk of acquiring serious infections he would not be able to fight because of the lack of white blood cells in his body.
The ideal treatment for a disease such as Godderidge’s is a bone marrow transplant. The best-case scenario for that type of transplant is to take marrow from an immediate family member. They are most likely to be the best matches, which results in a higher chance of success.
Godderidge’s four sisters were all immediately tested to see if they would be an acceptable match. Unfortunately, none of them matched closely enough to be worth the risk of the transplant.
The problem of a lack of donors inspired Godderidge’s family to do something to help other families avoid the same situation. That spring, they joined forces with his coaches, teammates and administrators at Sky View High School to take on the task of organizing a bone marrow drive through the National Marrow Donor Program. The drive proved successful, as they got more than 400 people to register as bone marrow donors.
While he waited for a marrow donor to be found, Godderidge was admitted to Primary Children’s to begin an intense round of immunosuppressive therapy. After nearly six months of treatment, he started to show signs of recovery. His blood counts started coming back up, and he required fewer transfusions.
By June 2006, his blood cell counts were back to normal, and he and his family were encouraged that his severe aplastic anemia was in remission. He went on with life, trying his best to get back to what he knew as normal.
Godderidge went through his senior year as he always hoped it would go. He was back playing on the golf and basketball teams. It was that year that he was given a spot and a scholarship on the USU golf team. He enrolled in school that fall.
By the end of his freshman fall season, the same familiar symptoms started plaguing Godderidge again. Doctors confirmed that his severe aplastic anemia had returned. They said that the best hope of a long-term cure would be a bone marrow transplant.
Godderidge’s education and athletic endeavors were once again put on hold and the process of searching again for a donor began. Four months later, a donor was found in a cord-blood unit from a donor bank in France. It wasn’t a perfect match, but it was close enough to try. While he waited for the transplant, Godderidge went back and forth between clinics for blood transfusions, doing everything possible to stay healthy enough for the transplant to be successful.
On March 31, 2008, Godderidge was admitted to the Immuno-Compromised Service Unit at Primary Children’s, and the transplant process got under way. It started with a week of preparatory treatment with chemotherapy and radiation to completely wipe out his immune system before the transplant. On April 7, he received the cord-blood unit, and he waited to see if the transplant would take hold. After being confined to his hospital room for five weeks, lab results started showing signs of engraftment, meaning donor marrow was getting set up and was beginning to produce blood cells.
Eventually, Godderidge was able to move from his hospital room to an apartment in the nearby Ronald McDonald House, where he had to stay until 100 days after the transplant. If everything went well, he would then be able to go home.
Unfortunately, things didn’t go as well as the Godderidge family hoped it would. After two weeks at the Ronald McDonald House, he was diagnosed with post-transplant lymphoproliferative disorder. He was re-admitted to Primary Children’s and spent another four weeks confined to the hospital, receiving intensive chemotherapy to try to stop the progression of the disorder.
This complication had the potential to cause the bone marrow graft to fail, but after six weeks of chemotherapy, the graft survived, and he now has fully functioning marrow.
Once he made it through the transplant and the ensuing complications, Godderidge was back at it, ready to hit the green once again.
“I was able to redshirt that year so that I could build my strength back up and get back to playing how I knew I could,” Godderidge said. “I wasn’t able to just come right out of the hospital and be back to normal.”
Following his redshirt season, Godderidge had successful sophomore and junior seasons, and he is now one of three seniors leading the Aggies.
“I remember the day he came into my office, looking all puffed up and swollen still. He looked at me and said ‘Coach, I’m ready to go.’ I never thought he would play competitive golf again,” said Aggie head coach Dean Johansen. “I used to have to force him to not play 18 holes. He would have played until he collapsed. It took him about six months to regain all of his strength, and he’s been a fireball ever since.”
This season he has a 75.87 stroke average in 26 rounds, with a season-low score of 70. His top finish was this fall at the Wildcat Invitational, where he finished tied for 28th.
“It’s definitely changed my physical game. I just can’t hit the way I used to. But mentally, it’s just a trial,” Godderidge said. “Everybody has trials, and this was mine. You just take care of it. I was just always positive. I wanted to know what was going on, and I just had faith that it would get better.”
Johansen said the experience has made Godderidge a stronger person and athlete. It also taught him that athletics aren’t necessarily the most important thing in life, and that dwelling on little mistakes isn’t worth it.
“Once you face something like that, and beat it, it makes everything else not that big of deal. A lot of student-athletes will live and die by their performance, but he doesn’t,” Johansen said. “He tries his best, does everything he can and feels great about it. He knows there are more important things in life.”
And some of those more important things in life, such as playing a round of golf with his teammates and friends, or graduating from Utah State this spring with a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies, would have never been possible had Godderidge never received his "second Chanse" at life.
Doug Hoffman is the assistant athletic director for Utah State University Athletic Media Relations.