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Cortney Sanders, 23, nursing student, patient, advocate

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Her story: Cortney Sanders had been in and out of hospitals all her life because of her SCD, but she’d never met a nurse with the disease—until one day, she did, “and I just couldn’t believe it.” The nurse told her “you can do it,” and now—after getting her associate’s degree with honors—Sanders is working toward becoming a nurse at a Florida college, despite debilitating health issues. Along the way, she has made time to volunteer for the Kids Conquering Sickle Cell Disease Foundation. In that role, she is empowering young people to pursue their passions and take care of themselves, just like she is doing.

Her inspiration: “So many nurses and doctors have been there for me, working to save my life. But I know there’s a void. Some can’t quite understand how we can look completely normal—looking at our cell phones, trying to laugh—yet be in excruciating pain. You can feel so defeated, and we need more people to understand what we’re going through.”

Unimaginable hurdle: Coping with the death of her best friend from SCD: “It was the saddest time I’ve ever been through. She wanted to start a foundation and change things for people with the disease. I miss her so much.”

How she survived: “I keep thinking of how she would never want me to give up. Ever.”

Biggest challenge: “Managing all the different crises. Sometimes the pain is so great that, honestly, I think about giving up at times. You can feel so alone—like nobody understands.”

What keeps her going: “People tell me I inspire them, and that means a lot. I didn’t have a lot of people to look up when I was growing up. People tell you all the time what you can’t do. But little girls need someone to look up to. So I tell them, ‘If I can get out of the hospital and go make an A on a test, there’s no way you can tell me you can’t at least try. I know you can do this!’”


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Last Updated: September 4, 2017