Rebounders Canada is a grassroots support group for Adult Survivors of Childhood Cancer.
Founder, Rebounders Canada
In the summer of 1973 at the age of 10, Andrew Sprawson was diagnosed with a brain tumour. From that time on, as it does with all cancer patients, Andrew’s life changed irrevocably.
Back in those days, medical professionals lacked diagnostic tools such as MRI’s and CT scans so Andrew had three surgeries. The first one was exploratory, the second to install a shunt and the third to tackle the tumour. After the surgeries he underwent grueling radiation treatments bound in a body cast designed to hold him still. He spent the whole summer in the hospital but brags that he didn’t miss a day of school that fall.
Almost immediately after his release from hospital Andrew showed signs of what is called “late effects” directly caused by the radiation treatments he had received. Gradually over time simple things became more difficult and within eight years he had stopped running, riding a bicycle, skating or skiing. It was clear that he wasn’t living a typical childhood.
By his twenties, Andrew had received some local media attention around his story as a “survivor” of childhood cancer. He established a small business designing and building children’s playground equipment. He became preoccupied with his business and for a time his life revolved around work, sleep and not much else. He longed for real friends with similar interests and challenges but even then recognized that his disabilities and history with cancer set him apart from mainstream society.
For a time he explored networks such as the Toronto Board of Trade as an avenue for meeting friends. His involvement with the Board of Trade included volunteer work building a dining hall for a camp benefiting children with cancer. It was through the camp that Andrew connected with that cancer organization, but he still found that people seemed more inclined to see his disabilities rather than his abilities.
It was in Andrew’s 29 th year that late effects made life changes necessary. He started having involuntary muscle movements and increasingly poor balance. His vision and hearing were impaired. Poor motor skills meant he was unable to drive a car. At 30 he underwent surgery to relieve some of the symptoms.
With the impact of late effects becoming more obvious Andrew felt increasingly isolated from mainstream society. Losing a lot of his strength and stamina forced him to reassess his priorities. The physical demands of his business grew to be too overwhelming and he closed the operation. He felt more alone and socially isolated than ever before.
It was Andrew’s father who suggested he might benefit from making friendships with other childhood cancer survivors. The big challenge lay in finding and contacting those survivors. Doctors were unable to provide names due to patient privacy issues. Andrew worked hard to convince Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital to mail a letter on his behalf to its now-adult childhood cancer survivors. He also asked childhood cancer support groups to print the letter in their member communications. By providing his own contact information, Andrew’s recruitment worked in reverse: he asked cancer survivors to find him!
Encouraged by the response after hearing from many fellow childhood cancer survivors, Andrew knew it was time to form an official group. He seized upon the name “Rebounders” to reflect the strength of the survivors’ rebounding back to life after staring death in the eye. The group’s motto became “Thrive, not just survive” and it was officially founded in 1990.
Andrew established many friendships through Rebounders Canada, with other individuals who have lived through similar experiences and also those who have not. For many Rebounders, the effects of their cancer or treatment means they cannot function fully in today’s fast-paced society. To be part of a network of friends sharing common history but facing many of the same challenges together has brought a richness to their lives.
It was through Rebounders that he met, and in 1997, married Jill, also a childhood cancer survivor. In 2007 the Rotary Club of Upper Oakville honoured Andrew with their Paul Harris Fellow Award for “service above self”.
Sadly Andrew’s cancer returned and he passed away in 2012.
Andrew remains a source of inspiration for all fellow cancer survivors and to those unaffected, all of whom will remember him for his strength and selfless dedication.
Andrew will be remembered for his leadership, wisdom, positive attitude, devotion to his fellow survivors, and for his compassion and expressions of gratitude for the simplest of gifts. His life was an inspiration to all who knew him.