With bubbliness and optimism, attorney DeGalynn Wade Sanders is taking on Stage 4 cancer.
An organic-foods-only diet with cold-pressed juices prepared by her husband, Lance Sanders, a workout schedule, and meds prescribed by her doctor are all part of her regimen. Her husband, an intellectual property manager for General Mills, is a man who knows his way around a kitchen; he was a home economist at the Golden Valley-based company before earning his law degree.
Lance is DeGalynn’s rock; he is charming and yet about as talkative as stone. Without complaint he has added driving for a ride-sharing company to his workload to supplement a family income stretched to the limit by the cost of organic foods, medical expenses and DeGalynn’s limited ability to work after almost 20 years of practicing law.
They have two sons. There’s Landen, 9, a model and actor you may have seen in the first episode of “True Monsters” on the History Channel, and younger son Logan, 6.
The only time DeGalynn became emotional during our interview was when Lance talked about how much she means to him.
“Every day you wake up and you just thank God for another day. You thank God for each little blessing and the time you are able to spend together is so precious,” said Lance. “We work really hard to just make sure she has what she needs and is in good health and good spirits, which is easy to do because she’s so warm and bubbly and such a strong spirit throughout this whole thing. We can’t tell you how grateful we are to all of our friends and family and the entire community for helping us have one more opportunity to get her well. … I think this whole community just recognized, ‘Hey let’s get her some treatment. Let’s tell this disease, “No you can’t take her from her family.” Let’s have her around for her sons for the next Christmas and the next birthday, hopefully going through Landen getting his black belt and both he and Logan graduating from high school and college, getting married.’ That’s what we’re in it for. One more Christmas …”
DeGalynn said, “I’m so tough until he starts talking. You’re trying to get me through one more Christmas. Really? I’m thinking 100 more Christmases!”
You can’t imagine she won’t have that many Christmases, because this is not her first tangle with cancer.
“It started with MS, vision loss. I’m legally blind,” she said. “Recently diagnosed with cancer and now I’ve been diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer. That’s what elevated everything. We had a fundraiser and a lot of professional singers came to support the cause. I’m trying to get access to additional therapies so I can beat it! I did all the traditional therapies and drugs throughout the last numerous years and they were not successful. So now I am looking elsewhere to do anything because I have a 9-year-old and a 6-year-old and we are willing to fight and do whatever it takes.”
It is her choice not to be more specific about her illness, a stance that falls with the parameters of something my mother says: You don’t have to know the details of anybody’s illness to wish them well.
One of life’s emotional burdens has gotten lighter for DeGalynn.
She didn’t grow up with her father, attorney Larry Leventhal, in her world, which was impoverished because her mother was a single parent raising three children. It took time for them to develop a true father-daughter relationship, but Lance told me that as Leventhal’s family came to know his only child, they grew to love her.
Now thoroughly consumed in his role as grandfather to Landen and Logan, Leventhal eagerly greeted me the day I interviewed DeGalynn. He told me she will beat this because she has the right attitude.
Q: I did a column item about your wedding in 2002?
A: Yes. It was an all law-themed wedding. We were lawyers and most of our guests were lawyers. It was fun. Then we ended up being on a lot of different channels with the news because of the law-themed wedding. And I was a Miss Black Minnesota, so that captured some interest as well.
Q: Is there anything you learned from your path to becoming Miss Black Minnesota that helped you with your current struggles?
A: Yes. When I was Miss Black Minnesota [ and competed for Miss Black USA] 1994 and 1995, of course, you just never give up, you keep fighting, regardless of the situation and circumstances that you are going through. I would say that was always a very important piece with the pageant life. Just keep fighting and that’s what I’m doing. I’m fighting, I’m fighting, I’m fighting. I do have two children, my 6-year-old and my 9-year-old, and I will continue to fight. I have to live for them and the rest of the world. So yes, I think that was very important in my pageant career.
Q: You must have some very strict dietary guidelines.
A: I am a vegan. I eat everything organic and that’s just my choice. I just want to eat healthy.
Q: What’s in a vegan diet?
A: Beans, rice. For breakfast I had broccoli and organic oatmeal and for lunch I had broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, sweet potatoes. I have a juice every hour. Just anything to make my body strong, healthy. Just trying to do whatever it takes. They said Stage 4, which is pretty serious. But I feel great! I work out regularly. I do everything the same. I just went to the doctor where they again reported it’s Stage 4. They always share with me: You are the healthiest person in this hospital. And that’s their report all the time. And they continue to say, That attitude is going to get you so far because you are just so positive. You’re always so excited!
Q: This is your normal attitude. Is that was attracted you to her?
A: Lance: We actually met online. So we e-mailed back and forth for like three months
A: DeGalynn: It was when AOL was brand new and there were only two people on AOL (us) and everybody was scared so we communicated for two or three months because [cautionary tone] I didn’t know him. Then I don’t know. What made you interested?
A: Lance: Definitely the personality.
Q: You had a big fundraiser?
A: DeGalynn: It was an amazing fundraiser at Pepitos restaurant. Amazing artist Larry Long.
A: Lance: Robert Robinson who sang at our wedding. And Justice Alan Page. I was a Page Scholar.
Q: But you are still raising funds?
A: We are, we are. We raised a considerable amount of money. We are on YouCaring.com but we are trying to raise $16,000 so I can get out of town. We are so grateful [to have raised money so] we can get additional therapies, whether in Mexico or Arizona or Texas.
Q: Have you checked out these therapies? Because some are not legit.
A: Yes. Of course. We’ve been looking at this for about a year now. Thank goodness we do have doctors in the family. They have been more than generous to do the research and tell us their thoughts.
Q: When you have an illness like this, does it make you prioritize your time in a different way? For example: I’m not spending time with so-and-so because I don’t like that person.
A: [Laughs] I would say probably for some people but for me this little bubbly personality that you see [she slaps her hands together] that is me 24 hours a day.
Q: You love everybody.
A: Right. I look forward to the phone, to the meetings, to people coming over to visit. Other people, like my husband, would prioritize. He’s said to me, “How about if we downsize? How about if we come up with some things that would be more beneficial to us?” And I’m like, “Oh, no. Of course not, because I already said I would do this [whatever] or that. Yes, normal people would probably agree to just probably choose, choose wisely, but for me I look forward [to everything] and communicating and just having fun.
Q: Are you one of those people who ever had a bucket list?
A: NO! But there are a couple of things I want to do. Like, when I started having vision problems, in 2000, 2003, I had to stop DRIVING. That was devastating so what I did was write my whole life story. And now I have children and now it’s cancer. Before it was MS, vision loss, trying to come up with a new path in my career because I can’t see. I was a prosecuting attorney. I walked into court and I was cursed out [laughter]: That woman, she put me in jail and I can’t believe she’s here! and I’m like, “If I put you in jail you must have deserved it. I’m sorry about that.” I was like, “I need to come up with a different career plan. I can’t see well. I need to come up with a different choice where I feel comfortable and people will not be out to hurt me.” Then I went back to family law, the area of law I practiced in my early years.
Q: Are you still working?
A: Yes and no. I try to work. I always take on these cases from church and from friends. Family law is my passion so I help everybody but whether I get money, that doesn’t usually happen. I feel good and I’m not earning any money.
Q: Lance and the boys seem to be doing OK?
A: Well, the 9-year-old totally understands. He knows Mom has cancer. He is a gifted and talented child, skipped a grade in school. He really pays attention to what Mom’s needs are. So sweet. He is so helpful. When he comes in from school: “Mom, are you OK? Did you have a great day? How do you feel? Mom, can I help you? Mom, do you need anything?” And he goes through videos for me all the time. “Mom, here’s a new video about cancer. This is how you can beat cancer. You want to view it with me?” The little 6-year-old, I don’t know if he knows.
Q: Does he not know or does he not understand?
A: Lance: He doesn’t understand.
Q: I can tell, DeGalynn, that you are very good at focusing on the moment.
Q: That’s just kind of your personality.
A: [Snickering] It is. The doctors say this is significant. This is serious. I mean, they have said that to me and I’m like, “I feel fine. I feel great. You think it’s serious but I’m going to get through this! Again. And again and again.” This is not the first time cancer came back. In 2012 was the first time and then it came back in 2014. And 2015 it came back. They have been giving me tons of treatments and therapies and that’s why I’m at the point where; I’ve done everything the traditional doctors have encouraged me to participate with and now it’s time to move on and do some other therapies and treatments that might benefit my life. I have to pinch myself sometimes and say, “Am I talking about myself and cancer and Stage 4 and the blindness? I can’t see anything.”
Q: What can you see?
A: I see you there. I just saw you waving your hands. But I don’t know if you were raising your finger at me. I don’t know what you were doing.
Q: I was not doing that.
A: C.J., you do some funny tricks.
Q: Was there a problem with you and your dad at one time?
A: Yes! Yes! When we got married in ’02, I was just starting developing a relationship with my father. He knew who I was. I was his only child but I was not claimed. His story is that he didn’t know. My mother’s story is that he did know but because of his ethnicity, he chose not to participate or get involved. My mother is African-American.
Q: Isn’t it wonderful how times have changed and that’s no longer an issue?
A: That’s not a big deal at all.
Q: And he knows it’s not a big deal?
A: We started developing this relationship [before] the wedding; he came to the wedding. It was odd because I can’t say “Father,” because I’ve never called him that.
Q: What do you call him now?
A: Larry. BUT THE KIDS! Oh, my God, here I am pregnant and it was all or nothing. “My kids are not going to be brought into this environment where they are going to call you Larry and they’re not calling you Papa, and you’re not accepting them,” she told her father. And he begged me: I choose all. I guarantee it. OH MY GOODNESS! If I had 1 percent of what my children get of Papa’s love! I would have been the happiest child. He is a PHENOMENAL grandfather. So that has really come a long way. It was a long time coming for me but those children are definitely benefiting from that amazing love.
Q: When you think of your childhood, your dad wasn’t there for what?
A: For anything. I grew up in a single-parent family, in the projects. I grew up with no food, no lights. I grew up struggling, basically taking care of myself. I was a papergirl, I made money and I did not have the support of a father or a mother at that point. She was absent. I was a cheerleader and captain of a cheerleading team and I was so smart and in college and he missed most of those wonderful activities for me. It was kind of odd, but he came to plays and theater to support me. I knew he was there and I knew that was my father, just no one else knew. [Laugh] He came to whatever I invited him to; he came to my [high school] graduation, he came to college graduation. He was there; it was just the silence, a silent acceptance.
Q: Isn’t it interesting that you didn’t have your father and yet you picked a very nice man …
A: I know [she whispered] …
Q: … over the Internet!
A: … with an amazing family. I fell in love with the family probably before I fell in love with him.
Q: Where are you from, Lance?
A: Chicago. My entire family is from Alabama — Birmingham and Montgomery.
Q: Has anybody told you how much you look like VIP Hair & Nails owner Tiffany Blackwell?
A: I’ve heard that comment. She’s so beautiful I will take that any moment.