DARBY - After Jake Sanders learned he had lymphoma two months ago, Darby residents pitched in and are raising money to help with medical expenses.

“He’s known as ‘Sunshine’ in our school,” said Kylie Fisher, a Darby senior. “He came from Florida to take care of his grandma, who was also sick with cancer. The nickname ‘Sunshine’ also came from the movie ‘Remember the Titans’ where a kid with long blond hair joined the football team.”

Sanders has long blond hair and joined the Darby football team.

“People were doubtful,” she said. “But he turned out to be a great athlete and a person who people could depend on.”

Darby High School Principal JP McCrossin said the nickname "Sunshine" suites Sanders perfectly.

“Not only because of his hair, but also his personality,” McCrossin said. “He is kind, caring, respectful and giving of himself.  Jake always has a smile on his face and a positive word to say. What he is going through is terrible, but if anyone will get through it - it will be Jake with the help of his family, friends and many supporters.”

Fisher said she is spearheading fundraising efforts to help cover the costs of Sanders’ treatments and other hospital bills. She has help from her mom, Tobie Fisher (a teacher in the Darby Elementary School), Kim Lewis, and Dana Nelson.

“We’ve made rubber bracelets that say ‘Team Strong’ and ‘Sunshine’ on them and we are selling them,” she said. “I’ve dropped the bracelets off at every business in Darby to have the community help. Our community is doing great. There has been donations and stores have called because they ran out of bracelets. Crimson Blue is making t-shirts and hoodies and sweaters.”

The items say ‘Sunshine 61 Strong’ because Sanders’ football number was 61.

Radonda Cunningham, owner of Crimson Blue Graphic Art, had Darby students help make many of the t-shirts.

“I’m doing this because it is a small community and I want to help out as much as I can,” she said. “I don’t want Jake or his mom, Debi, to worry about funds while they are trying to get Jake better. I want them to focus on Jake.”

Cunningham said her daughter plays volleyball with Fisher and her son is friends with Sanders.

Debi Sanders, Jake’s mom, went through treatment for stage three malignant melanoma skin cancer nearly 20 years ago.

“Because I was a cancer survivor and have gone through what Jake is going through it is helping him,” she said by phone on Friday. “Today they are going to shave his head which is going to be really, really hard. He is known for his long blonde hair and it’s a big deal.”

Sanders said her son was transported by Life Flight to Utah on Sept. 28.

“We’ve been in the hospital 24/7 and shut off from the world a little bit,” she said.

Debi Sanders and her son Jake moved to Darby seven years ago this month to care for her mom, Linda Lee Mortamore.

“My mother was battling cancer and Jake and I left everything behind – our house, job, husband,” she said. “We had a year with my mom before she passed away. We stayed to take care of my stepfather until he passed away. It is just the two of us now – and a million friends, we’re pretty blessed.”

Fisher said there is a YouCaring site for Sanders to enable people in Florida, or anywhere, to donate and participate in helping on-line at www.youcaring.com/jakesanders-972380.

Locally, Farmers State Bank, 805 No. Main St. in Darby, has an account called “Jake Sanders Medical Benefit.”

“So many community members know him as ‘Sunshine’ and may not know his real name,” Fisher said. “If people want to donate we accept anything they can provide. From the bottom of my heart I ask if you can't donate financially then donate prayers and good vibes towards my ‘Sunshine.’ This town has already shown so much support and it is truly amazing.”