This Inspiring 20-Year-Old Has Fought Bone Cancer 3 Times

Published Nov 26, 2018

Now, he's raising money for cancer research.

Tyler Trent is 20 years old and he is totally crazy about his college football team, the Purdue Boilermakers. He also has a devastating form of bone cancer called osteosarcoma.

What’s caught so many people’s attention around the country is that Tyler has an absolutely remarkable spirit. When he was a freshman, he camped out all night to get the best seats for the football game. As his disease progressed the Purdue community has embraced him, and Tyler has smiled right back. There he was on ESPN, as Purdue played Ohio State. A sideline cut-away of joy to just be part of the game.

Now Purdue has created an endowment in his name to benefit the University’s cancer research, and, yes, he even has his own bobblehead doll… a piece of memorabilia that dances in black and gold.

To be clear, Tyler’s story is sad. His prognosis is very challenging. As a 20-year-old, he is already leaving a legacy.

“Less than two months ago, he was given days, really, he was on hospice, so it’s just really miraculous almost how he’s doing,” Tim Bobillo, Chief Development Officer for the Purdue University Center for Cancer Research tells SurvivorNet.  “The family has great faith, I’ll say before anything else — they are such a faithful family. It’s a real heartwarming story.”

Bobillo explains that the school administration became familiar with Tyler when he was a student and joined the Director’s Advancement Board at the Center for Cancer Research, which advises the Director of the Center on a variety of development-related issues. According to Bobillo, Tyler contributed a great deal to the University with his insight and perspective as a student, a super-fan, and a young man fighting cancer.

When Tyler made the difficult decision to withdraw from the University this fall after his condition deteriorated, the school devised a way to honor him. The administration decided the rising sophomore was the perfect recipient for the inaugural “Giant Impact” alumni award. “Who better than Tyler to be the first [recipient]?” explains Bobillo. “And it was possible because he had earned, in less than two years, the credits to gain an associate degree in his major in the college of Polytechnic at Purdue University. So, he was an alum.” After the Dean of the College of Polytechnic, which offers degrees in fields like cybersecurity and electrical engineering technology, went to his house to give Tyler his diploma, the President of the Alumni Association, Ralph Amus, and Bobillo returned to see him and present him with the award for being an inspirational alumnus.

As Tyler’s story gained traction in the local media, the Purdue board found a way to help him leave a lasting legacy at the school. “We made a decision – the board did – to raise some funds and to start an endowed fund within the Center for Cancer Research that would go toward cancer research right here at Purdue, named for Tyler, in honor of Tyler, and it would live in perpetuity,” says Bobillo. “So it’ll always be here, it will continue to grow, and it will fund research at his beloved Purdue.”

While the Center for Cancer Research at Purdue does not see patients, it has 115 faculty members from a variety of specialties including biology and chemistry, as well as some molecular pharmacology, veterinary medicine, biomedical engineering, and more working on important research. The funds from Tyler’s endowment will be distributed, according to University policy, to the areas within the Center that need it most.

And to make Tyler’s namesake endowment even more impactful, one local organization is offering to match all donations it receives: The Walther Cancer Foundation in Indianapolis, which funds cancer research around the state. “They’re doubling any gifts at endowments at the center right now,” explains Bobillo, “so that’s been very successful for us and we thank Tyler for his leadership on that.”

The donations have been ramping up since Tyler’s story was featured in national sports media. (Against all odds, Bobillo recounts, Tyler was able to attend the Purdue vs. Ohio State game this fall. While sitting in the Center for Cancer Research suite at the stadium, ESPN requested to interview him, drawing eyes from around the country to his story.) Now, the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum is selling a bobblehead doll, the proceeds from which will go towards Tyler’s Purdue endowment as well as the V Foundation, another cancer-focused organization that Tyler supports, in memory of the former North Carolina State basketball coach Jimmy Valvno.

Osteosarcoma is the most common type of cancer that originates in the bones, and is usually seen in younger patients like children and teens. Tyler’s osteosarcoma began in his shoulder, came back in his hip after going into remission, and, most recently, returned again in his spine. Tyler continues to fight the disease in his own body while being treated at Riley Children’s Hospital and continues to help raise awareness and money to advance research on the disease and treatment options.

In the meantime, Bobillo says, Tyler tries to make it to all the Purdue games he can. “Very positive stories can be unique in this field,” says Bobillo. “I think he gives hope to a lot of people.”

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