One student’s journey to defeat cancer

By MaryKate McCann
October 15, 2012

Sayles posing with several friends

One man. One goal. One challenge.

Tim Sayles wants to defeat cancer in memory of his brother who has lost his battle.

“This… this is the time of year Matt was in the hospital and everything,” Sayles said. “Just the weather,” he said slowly, “whenever I walk outside and it’s cold and frigid I just remember riding my bike to the hospital.”

Sayles’ brother was diagnosed with parotid gland cancer at the age of 24.

In December 2010 Tim’s brother, Matt, returned from teaching in Thailand to receive some chemo and radiation after discovering a lump behind his ear. After spreading to lungs and knees he was given his chemotherapy medicine along with many other medications.

In the spring of 2011 Matt came to Cabrini for a night to attend a concert of their favorite band, Railroad Earth.

“Live music was something that was very important to my family because Matt loved it so much,” Sayles said.

That summer it got a lot worse as it moved to his spine and he was hospitalized for 49 days before he passed away at the age of 27.

“We remember and feel him through the music,” Sayles said.

“Tim’s like a brother to me,” Jon Miller, a junior English major, said. “I was there with him and his family through the passing of his brother and it was a rough journey.”

This tragic event led Tim Sayles, a senior social work major from Ridgewood, N.J., to be the only college student amidst a stage full of adults who received the American Cancer Society Volunteer Achievement Award on Wednesday, Oct. 3.

“Tim is an amazing young man,” his mother, Kathleen, said. “Matt touched his life so personally, inspiring him to get involved.”

Sayles represents the American Cancer Society (ACS) with the hard work, dedication and compassion he has contributed to the nationwide voluntary health organization.

Sayles was counselor at Camp Fiver, in New York, promoting healthy life choices, enhancing self-efficacy and leadership skills.

“It opened my eyes to work with younger kids,” Sayles said.

He also worked at Outward Bound in Philadelphia where he enjoyed “helping kids build character and morals.”

“I am willing to work with any demographic,” Sayles said. “You can work with any group of people that you could imagine”

After Sayles attended the Relay for Life at Villanova his freshman year he was inspired to bring the general lack of familiarity to campus. He understood that Relay for Life isn’t only about raising awareness; It’s about raising money and honoring, remembering and celebrating those touched by cancer.

“Showing up is great and everything, but my goal is to get the word out that the main thing is fundraising,” Sayles said. “I understand it’s difficult for college students but it’ll all add up if we all did a little bit.”

This 12-hour life-saving event, which has become an annual one, has done a lot to unite all participants under the common cause of helping people by finding cures and fighting back.

“Tim always has a positive outlook when things seem to be tough,” Kristen Nagle, co-president of RFL, said. “He is always smiling and giving great advice for Relay for Life to reach its goal this year.”

With Sayles as co-chair, Cabrini’s Relay for Life raised over $21,000, the largest total in the three-year history of the event.

Not only does Relay for Life raise awareness about the disease but it also helps keep the memory of Tim’s brother alive. Some friends of Tim have showed their support by participating in the “Shave to Save” event.

“The moment I shaved my head, I saw Tim the happiest I ever saw him.” Miller said. “For a second, just a second he forgot about how terrible the relapse really was, and he realized how strong his brother was and how strong he actually was.”

Tim’s parents are starting a “Matt Sayles Foundation” to raise money for research on parotid gland cancer.

“We want to raise awareness to young adults about salivary gland cancer,” Kathleen said.

Sayles is applying to get his masters in social work at NYU, Hunter and Columbia.

“My senior year in high school I wanted to go into the homeless teenagers in poverty profession,” Sayles said.  “After Matt passed away, I want to do medical social work with cancer patients.”

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MaryKate McCann

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