By Starrla Cray
DELANO, WATERTOWN, MN Cancer, neuropathy, liver trouble, and chronic Hepatitis. . . .
Having one of these health problems would be hard enough, but Tom Sanko of Watertown is battling all of them.
“It’s a lot to be handed on one plate, but I’m not giving up,” Tom said. “The frame of your mind and how you feel about it is half the battle.”
It all started in the 1990s, when Tom had his gallbladder removed.
“That’s when they discovered all this other stuff,” Tom said. “It all kind of snowballed.”
He was diagnosed with Hepatitis C from an unknown cause, which began to take its toll on his body.
Tom’s liver, for example, is close to failing, but doctors aren’t able to do a transplant yet.
“They want to try and beat the Hepatitis first,” Tom said, explaining that he has to take a prescription with possible harsh side effects.
Neuropathy has also been a constant concern for Tom. The numbness started in his feet, but has progressed to his legs, and a little in his hands.
“It’s up to my knees right now,” he said. “It’s a really strange disease.”
Neuropathy has made it difficult for Tom to walk, so he uses a cane.
“People may have noticed a guy walking strangely around town that’s me,” he said. “I’ve gotten over feeling funny about it, because it’s just the way it is.”
To top it off, Tom has had three operations for colon cancer so far, and a fourth is planned for Monday, Dec. 12.
“It’s an actual tumor, so they have to literally cut it out,” he said.
Because of his damaged liver, Tom isn’t able to take pain medication, and is constantly hurting.
“It’s just getting progressively worse,” said his sister, Carol Sanko-Cantin.
Keeping up with a job in the midst of all these issues hasn’t been easy for Tom, who is a part-time mechanic at Nye’s Watertown Repair, but he is doing his best.
“He is a fighter and will do what he needs to, to still support his family even though he is suffering with pain everyday,” Carol noted.
Tom said he is grateful for all the people who have supported him throughout these hard times.
“At first, I was trying to hide it, because I didn’t want my kids to worry,” he said. “But, I just couldn’t do it anymore.”
Tom’s former sister-in-law, Peggy Sanko, said Tom has “always been a very caring and giving person with a heart of gold.”
Tom has three children, including 21-year-old Christopher, and 19-year-old twins, Jessie and Shannon.
“Man, he loved those kids,” Peggy noted, recalling when his children were growing up. “He became a stay-at-home dad and doted on those children, ensuring they were well cared for and happy. I must say, he succeeded. However, he then had to work nights to help support the household. At this time, his neuropathy was only in his feet, but the pain was always there. He never complained.”
Tom’s siblings also have fond memories of him.
“I always looked up to him, even after he ran down the street after me and shot me in the butt with a BB gun,” noted his younger brother, Dave Sanko.
Carol remembers Tom taking her fishing and to amusement parks.
“Now, I see a man who is very sick, and needs his family to help him,” she noted.
Carol and others are planning a benefit for Tom at the Delano American Legion (200 Babcock Blvd. W.) Friday, Dec. 16 from 6 to 9 p.m.
The benefit will include a large silent auction, as well as a pasta dinner for $6 per adult and $3 per child. Ages 2 and under are free.
An account for Sanko has been set up at Bremer Bank, PO Box 398, Watertown, MN 55388.
Donations and/or silent auction items can also be mailed to Carol Sanko-Cantin, 286 Waverland Ct., Waverly, MN 55390.
For additional information, call Carol at (320) 828-1155 or click on the link to Sanko’s CaringBridge site, http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/thomassanko
“You learn so many things when you have these problems,” Tom said. “I’ve learned that there are people who do care.”