FIGHT FOR MIKE: 19-year-old Michael Sakata’s battle against leukemia

ON THE COVER: (Left to right) Older brother Anthony Sakata, Michael Sakata, Los Angeles Clippers forward Matt Barnes (center back), 		younger sister Cristina (center front), father Tracy Sakata and mother Corina Sakata. Michael Sakata is currently 			fighting against leukemia.  photo by IIyssa Pahia

(Left to right) Older brother Anthony Sakata, Michael Sakata, Los Angeles Clippers forward Matt Barnes (center back), younger sister Cristina (center front), father Tracy Sakata and mother Corina Sakata. Michael Sakata is currently fighting against leukemia. photo by IIyssa Pahia

ROSEVILLE, Calif. — Despite the scorching 100-degree weather, Los Angeles Clippers forward Matt Barnes and former Sacramento Kings point guard Bobby Jackson joined about 45 other people to play in a golf tournament at the Woodcreek Golf Club in Roseville, Calif. on June 30 to raise money for 19-year-old leukemia patient Michael Sakata.

Barnes, who lost his mother to cancer in 2007, said it was great to help raise money for a good cause, while playing golf with friends and family at the same time.

“When (Sakata’s) family and my friend called me up and asked if I wanted to be a part of (the tournament fundraiser), it was definitely something I wanted to do,” he said.

Sakata met Barnes in February after one of Barnes’ games. His father, Tracy Sakata, has a friend who grew up with Barnes and was able to get them passes to meet him after a game.

After being asked to join the golf tournament, Barnes asked Jackson, who won the tournament, to participate as well.

Tracy Sakata said it felt overwhelming to see professional players help raise money.

“It just shows what kind of good people they are,” he said. “It means a lot to me that they came out to do this — not for me, for my son.”

As a sports fan, Michael Sakata said it was a big deal for him to meet Barnes and Jackson, and it felt surreal to see them play golf at the local course.

From Side Pain to Diagnosis
Michael Sakata, who has been fighting leukemia for a year and a half, said his troubles began in January of 2012, when he suffered intense pain on the left side of his torso, right below his rib cage. He said it “felt like a running cramp, except a little more intense.” Having just played basketball that night, Sakata thought it was just a side cramp from exercising.

The next few days, Sakata went to work as usual, just dealing with the pain, but he did not go to the gym. When he woke up that Friday morning, the pain had intensified and shifted completely to his right side.

“Through the night it just, boom, switched sides,” he said. “I got up and I couldn’t even stand up straight.”

Sakata’s parents took him to the emergency room. The ER doctors said Sakata was suffering from appendicitis, but the computed tomography scan came out negative. Thinking that he had a viral infection, the doctors sent Sakata home for the weekend. However, after examining his blood, the doctors called the Sakatas the following Monday and told them that he had leukemia.

Sakata underwent additional blood tests with his regular doctor, who also said the tests showed signs of leukemia. He then returned to the ER for more blood tests. He also had bone marrow tests done later in the week, which were positive for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL). Sakata began receiving treatment by the beginning of the next week.

“I guess ALL spreads so fast that they have to attack it, treat it right away or else it just goes everywhere,” Tracy Sakata said.

That summer in June of 2012, Sakata began to feel pain in his right eye. The pain eventually caused him to lose sight in that eye. Tracy Sakata said that the leukemia swelled the optic nerve of his son’s eye so much that it stopped the blood flow to the retina, killing the nerve.

After losing sight in his right eye, Michael Sakata underwent radiation and heavy chemotherapy once again, reducing the leukemia to almost nothing by August of 2012. However, after beginning the maintenance therapy phase that November, the cancer rose to 0.01 percent and continued to rise despite the treatment. By April of 2013, as tests showed that the leukemia had risen to almost 67 percent, he underwent another 15 days of heavy chemotherapy to reduce the count to almost nothing.

Interrupting His Education
Sakata graduated from Roseville High School, where he played football, in 2011 and is currently attending Sierra College. However, his attendance has been interrupted many times because of the time he has spent at the hospital receiving treatment. From the end of 2012 up until his relapse in April of 2013, Sakata was attending classes normally.

“Here he was happy to be (at school) every day and he hardly missed any days but it ended up where he had to drop his classes,” Michael’s father said.

Prior to his relapse last spring, Michael Sakata said he had begun looking into pursuing a computer science degree, meeting with a counselor before being readmitted later that week. Sakata said he’d eventually like to transfer to a University of California or a state college out of the city.

Current Condition and Receiving Support
At the golf tournament, Sakata said he felt well enough to play about six holes, sitting out midway because his allergies were acting up, but he handled the heat better than he had expected.

He said he has been feeling fairly normal for the most part, but he does not have as much energy as he should.

“At this point, I’m just used to it,” he said. “I think my body is just so used to it by now that I can just function off of it normally.”

Sakata, who is of Japanese and Mexican descent, lives in Roseville with his father Tracy, a UPS truck driver, his mother Corina, a dental office manager, older brother Anthony and younger sister Cristina.

In addition to the golf tournament, which drew an additional 50 people for the dinner portion of the event later that day, Tracy Sakata said they also held a car wash to raise money. Relatives hosted a poker fundraiser in April while Michael Sakata was in the hospital. Fight for Mike T-shirts, with the slogan “because losing is not an option,” and wristbands are sold at each event.

 ­— (Left to right): Sakata’s father, Tracy Sakata, Michael Sakata and former Sacramento Kings point guard Bobby Jackson. Jackson and Los Angeles Clippers forward Matt Barnes (above left) took part in the golf tournament. photos by Kenji G. Taguma and Heather Ito/Nichi Bei Weekly

­FIGHTING FOR MIKE — (Left to right): Tracy Sakata, Michael Sakata and former Sacramento Kings point guard Bobby Jackson. Jackson and Los Angeles Clippers forward Matt Barnes took part in the golf tournament. photo by Kenji G. Taguma

A donation Website ( is also online, and has raised $3,295 as of July 9. Supporters can receive updates on his condition and what he is up to on the Facebook page, “Me and my wife, we can’t thank everybody enough,” Tracy Sakata said. He said they have received donations from people they don’t know personally and six people from his delivery route sponsored holes at the golf tournament, while others attended the fundraiser.

“It was kinda overwhelming at first,” Michael Sakata said, regarding the amount of support he has been receiving. He said he talks to his parents about the fundraisers at home. “Then you actually show up and there’s a bunch of people there for you. It’s pretty cool but kind of shocking at the same time.”

Next Steps
Sakata is currently seeing doctors at Sutter General Hospital in Sacramento and is receiving a second opinion from doctors at Stanford in order to ensure that the right steps are taken for his treatment. Tracy Sakata said the doctors at both locations said it is best to do the bone marrow transplant once the leukemia has again been reduced to nothing.

“They said he’s 19, just do the bone marrow transplant (and) then he won’t have to look over his shoulder again,” Tracy Sakata said.

According to Tracy Sakata, five potential bone marrow donors have been found, one of which received additional testing for the match at the end of June 2013. The family should know within a few weeks how close of a match that person is for Michael.

Two umbilical cords that are Sakata’s exact match are also available, but his doctors said that having a live donor is best. The umbilical cords will be the second transplant option if they cannot find the right live donor for the transplant.

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