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HAMILTON — “Stepping UP for Sunshine” is a semi-formal New Year’s Eve Prime Rib dinner and dance at the Darby Clubhouse to raise funds and community spirit for Darby graduate Jake “Sunshine” Sanders in his battle against lymphoma.

Dana Nelson is coordinating the fundraising event along with Kimberly Lewis, Theresa Manzella, Christina Harrell, Sarah Nelson, Lori Smith, Hillary McDowell, Kylie Fisher, Michelle Buker, Sue Neville and Kim Fox.

“We hope to raise community spirit and to let him know that all the people here are rooting for him and wishing him well on this whole treatment plan with the cancer he has,” Nelson said. “They cannot remove the tumor with surgery so the goal is to shrink it over the next three years. He has a long road ahead with treatments and trips to the hospital.”

About three months ago, Jake Sanders was having chest pains and after several appointments was diagnosed with Stage 3 Non-Hodgkin’s T-cell Lymphoma. He has been undergoing chemotherapy at Children’s Primary Hospital in Salt Lake City.

Nelson said she met Debi Sanders — Jake Sander’s mom — as a chaperone for a senior trip of Darby High School students.

“My daughter was friends with Jake and his girlfriend Kylie (Fisher),” she said. “That is how I got involved in all of this.

“Jake is one of the most remarkable young men I have come across. He and his mom have been through quite a few struggles over the course of his life. Debi, went through Stage 3 malignant melanoma skin cancer and had to undergo three surgeries and a year of chemo starting when Jake was 8 months old. To add to the tragedy, he lost his only brother seven years ago, and lost his grandmother five years ago to cancer.”

Nelson said Fisher will be at the New Year’s Eve event, but was unsure if Jake Sanders will attend.

“If Jake is up to it and if he gets the okay from his doctor to be around that many people, he may try to be there,” she said. “Usually when people are on chemo it is not recommended for them to be around that many people.”

According to Nelson, Jake Sanders came home to Darby just before Christmas, will do treatments in Missoula, and will head back to Salt Lake City sometime after the first of the year.

Music for the New Year’s Eve event will be provided by Jim Pearson, who volunteered his services.

“He’s a pretty good entertainer from what I hear,” Nelson said. “We hope it is an amazing turnout. We are doing pre-sales tickets for the evening with over 80 items for the silent auction.”

Auction items include a two-night cabin rental at the Stock Farm Club, a fly fishing trip with Montana Hunting and Fishing Adventures with the Bitterroot Fly Company, lift tickets to Lost Trail Powder Mountain, a two-night cabin rental at Corber Cabins, jewelry, art work and other products.

Nelson said the New Year’s Eve party will have great food and visiting.

“It will have lot of love, support and a great time for the people that come to the event and rally around him,” she said. “This was one way that his friends and community members can come together and help lighten the burden for this battle that he is on.

“Jake has a very long journey ahead and I think this will just be a drop in a bucket, but the support for him is the biggest thing. People with a great support system tend to do better in these battles.”

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Debi Sanders agreed that community support is important.

“Jake and I have been in Salt Lake since Sept. 28, after being life-flighted over to Intermountain Primary Children’s Hospital,” Sanders said on Thursday. “It’s been a long and could have been a very lonely journey if it wasn’t for the Bitterroot Valley, and especially the town of Darby. We have been overwhelmed with the support and the love. We have a three-year journey ahead and it’s possible because of this community.”

Debi Sanders said that before the diagnosis, her son was attending the University of Montana and studying pre-med radiology.

“But who knows now,” she said. “Sometimes when bad things happen something good comes out of it. The sky is the limit.”

Nelson said the New Year’s Eve event will be a “beautiful night with delicious food, amazing auction items, great music, kind and generous friends and supporters, and a worthwhile cause.”

The “Stepping UP for Sunshine” event has limited seating, and tickets may be purchased early in Darby at Electric Beach, Bandit Brewing, Kim Lewis Massage, Darby Liquor, Darby Merc and in Hamilton at Alpha Propane, Theresa Manzella and Dana Nelson (360-0356).

Tickets for “Stepping UP for Sunshine” cost $40 for dinner, a no host bar, music and dancing. The social hour is 5:30 to 7 p.m., followed by a prime rib dinner, auction, music and dancing Sunday, Dec. 31, at the Darby Club House.

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