Growing up, Sean Byers was just like any normal kid. He loved playing baseball, football and basketball. And he loved hunting.
Then, when he was 11, the Blairsville resident began experiencing migraines. He went for a doctor to have tests run Days later while at school, his mom pulled him from class.
“I will never forget that day at school,” said Byers, now 20. “I was yelling at my mom because she came and got me and suddenly I see my dad in the front seat of the car and he had bloodshot eyes.”
Byers’ parents, Sandy and Charlie Byers, told him the reason behind his migraines — he had a cancerous brain tumor.
“I just looked at my mom and said, ‘I’m going to die, aren’t I?,” he said. “I walked around my house with my head down the whole time. It was just so low to hear, that I had cancer.”
Doctors game Byers a grim prognosis. He would need surgery to remove the tumor, which would also require removing part of the right side of his brain. There was a 10 percent chance he’d survive the operation, and even if he did, doctors didn’t believe he would be able to move or talk. Even still, there would be an 80 percent chance cancer would return.
In December of 2001, Byers went into surgery. He dropped into a coma and remained in intensive care for 69 days. He remained hospitalized for nine months following the operation, but he survived.
Moving forward, Byers would have to relearn life skills from scratch.
“We didn’t know if he would be able to move or anything,” Sandy said. “When he began therapy, it took him 20 minutes to extend his finger.”
Initially, he was unable to speak, but learned sign language to communicate.
In October of 2002, he was again able to form words. He began learning how to again use his muscles. Before the surgery, he was right-handed. Because part of the right side of his brain was removed, he became left-handed. He required a feeding tube.
Eventually, he would be able to eat without a feeding tube and was able to move around, but was still limited to a wheel chair. He had memories of before the surgery and realized he could no longer participate in athletics.
“He went from being a sports kid to a cancer kid,” Sandy said. “That was a hard swing for him because he remembered life before.”
He returned to school and was enrolled in classes for kids with special needs. Though he could no longer play sports, he still wanted a hobby to pursue in his free time. That’s when Harmony Grove Baptist Church in Blairsville stepped in.
The church had a program named the Harmony Grove Baptist Outdoor Ministry, that gives special needs kids like Byers an opportunity to enjoy outdoor activities. The ministry, headed by Jeff Deaver, allowed Byers the chance to pursue one of his favorite pre-cancer activities — hunting.
Hunting was also an opportunity for Byers to bond with his father, who was having trouble adapting to having a special needs son.
A special gun was made for Byers that had a double scope so another person could assist him with hunting. Pretty soon, he was hunting deer, boar, rams, buffalo and turkey, among other sport.
He’s even recorded a few kills.
“He loves to go hunting,” Deaver said. “He enjoys the opportunity to go and he really enjoys the outdoors.”
Three years ago, the ministry created a television show named X-treme Christian Outdoors, which chronicle the ministry’s outdoor adventures with special needs kids. Byers is featured in the show, which airs seven days a week on Charter Channel 23, on a regular basis.
“I love getting the chance to get out of the house and spend time with my dad and the church,” Byers said.
“Hunting any animal to me is like skydiving. That rush of energy you get right before you jump from the plane is the same rush I get when I see that animal. And I tell you what, it’s hard not to holler out when you’re watching it through that scope. And getting one, knowing you got what you came for — there’s no feeling like it. It gives you a sense of accomplishment.”
Being on the show and involved with the ministry also gives Byers a chance to share his testimony with others.
He serves as an inspiration to the people he comes in contact with.
“I guess it was awful I got cancer,” said Byers, “But I can only thank God it happened because of the people I’ve met and the places I’ve been. I take it God has a bigger plan for my life and that’s why I try to talk to everyone I can. I want people to know that even though this happened, there are more walks of life that God has in store, so to take each day as a blessing.”
Sandy likes that her son has the chance to bond with others in a normal setting.
“The ministry treats him like anyone else,” she said. “One time they brought in some fudge and he ate it all, so they started calling him ‘Fudgy.’ They pick at him, and he gives it right back. That’s what he desperately needed. (Charlie and I) love him, but he’s our son. These men didn’t have to treat him as someone special, but Sean is one of the guys with them.”
Aside from hunting, Byers is also progressing in school. He graduated from Union County High in May of 2008 and, with the help of a cane, accomplished his goal of walking to the platform to receive his diploma, something doctors didn’t think would be possible. He received a 20 minute standing ovation for those who attended the graduation ceremony.
After high school, he attended the Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation and learned independent living and job training skills. His goal is now to find a job and attend college at North Georgia Technical and earn a business-related degree.
Byers’ mother said once he completes school, his ultimate goal is to help others in some form or fashion.
Byers himself wants to continue to give his testimony.
“Don’t ever think certain things won’t happen to you,” he said. “Life changes.”