INDIAN TRAIL, N.C. — The mayor of Indian Trail in Union County spends a lot of his day being active running the city, helping his family, delivering meals on wheels and fighting cancer.
Mayor Michael Alvarez was diagnosed with angiosarcoma more than a year ago.
After surgeries, treatments and a lot of changes, Alvarez’s schedule is in full swing, and he’s showing no signs of slowing down.
What You Need To Know
Indian Trail Mayor Michael Alvarez lost his arm to angiosarcoma last year
Now, Alvarez is learning to use his new prosthetic
The 18-month struggle has been a long journey, but he's energized to be on the other side of it
“It’s doing my job, serving the public here in Union County,” Alvarez said while delivering meals on wheels.
On a sunny Union County day, Alvarez and one of his daughters stopped by the Indian Trail United Methodist Church to pick the meals for their 10-house route.
As they packed the meals and delivered them to those in need, it served as a reminder for why Alvarez enjoys his job.
“I enjoy when I’m able to solve a problem for a resident that’s very frustrated, and they feel like their government’s working for them,” Alvarez explained.
The meals on wheels work is not necessarily new, but Alvarez is doing the job with a new challenge.
“Yeah I can do the job with just one arm. Congress and Senate have been doing it with no brain forever,” Alvarez joked.
You see, last May Mayor Alvarez lost his right arm to angiosarcoma.
July is Sarcoma Awareness Month, and Alvarez hopes his story inspires others to help defeat sarcoma cases.
Sarcoma is a cancer which can affect soft tissue and bones. Soft tissue sarcomas will impact roughly 13,500 patients this year, and about 5,300 are expected to die, according to the American Cancer Society.
Sarcomas account for just 1% of cancer in adults, but 20% of cancer in children, according to the Sarcoma Foundation of America.
But don’t worry, Alvarez has a sense of humor about his diagnosis.
“Made some jokes about it, asked them if they could give me a left-handed gavel and things like that,” Alvarez laughed.
Even through the laughter, the process is tough and tiring, requiring countless appointments and hours of physical therapy.
“I’m here, I have to get here,” Alvarez told his doctors during a recent appointment discussing his progress using the prosthetic limb.
A year after his surgery, Alvarez is learning to use a new right arm. The prosthetic, and learning how to use it, is a work in progress.
So, the 11-year mayor goes about his day at appointments, helping the city and pitching in at his friend’s business.
As he looked back on what’s been a tiring 18 months, he reflected on the tumor in his arm and when it felt unbearable.
“Just had the whole bottle of the oxycontin, and I just poured it into my mouth. And, was about to take the water and just — that’s it, I can’t anymore. I mean I was so weak, and so much pain cause I hadn’t slept in — it was four months. I spit them back out,” Alvarez said.
Alvarez said he asked God to take him or give him a step forward. The next day, his wife inspired him to get up and active to stop focusing on the pain of his tumor.
“I don’t expect any miracles to come down and instantly cure me or grow the limb back. I’ve come to realize the miracle is the people that have been put in my life,” Alvarez said about the experience.
The tumor, which started developing in his arm last spring, caused incredible pain, according to Alvarez. After doctors removed it, Alvarez said the incision was not showing signs of healing and doctors determined the tumor was cancerous, leading to the removal of his right arm below the shoulder.
In a text update to Spectrum News 1 on Wednesday morning, Alvarez said his most recent scans showed the cancer was in remission, and he will move to a more maintenance-based treatment plan.
It’s his own miracle, which will keep him on the road helping others.
Alvarez said friends and business owners in the community really came together to help him through the last 18 months.
One of those friends, David Cook, who runs a funeral home in Indian Trail, said the mayor’s renewed energy is a good sign.
“When you see him, and you see him going and going and going, that’s when I feel best, because that’s when I know he’s on top of it, it’s not on top of him,” Cook said about his friend.
Another friend, Joe Abbate, who owns and operates a pizza shop in town, provided food during Alvarez’s treatments and comfort to the family.
All told, it’s a story of how a local community rallied around its mayor, making sure he could stay on the road and continue helping his community.