skip to main content

Tyler Trent Give and Take

"I want to leave a legacy that motivates people to be advocates. Change only happens when we decide to actually do something about it. At the end of the day, there are generations behind me, as well. If I could motivate them, I would be a happy man."

Tyler Trent, a 20-year-old Purdue student from Carmel, Indiana, who suffered from a rare form of bone cancer, died Jan. 1 after a five-year battle with the disease. During his time at Purdue, Trent was an eager student, a tireless advocate for giving and an inspiration to many.

Purdue has established the Tyler Trent Cancer Research Endowment in his honor. It is a funds-matching endowment, with the Walther Cancer Foundation giving a dollar for every dollar donated.

Tyler Trent

Paying it Forward

Osteosarcoma took parts of Trent’s arm, his hip and his youth. Ultimately, the cancer took his life. All the while, Trent remained unchanged in many ways. He fought, he lived his life and he paid it forward even though his future was always in doubt.

Cancer took and Tyler Trent did nothing but give.

"My spiritual gift is the ability to serve others, and advocacy comes with that. Once you've been through cancer one, two, three times, you develop a passion to be an advocate," Trent said in an interview in spring 2018.

"Our experiences shape who we are, and I wanted to turn my experience into something useful by being an advocate. You can get cancer and be someone who just goes through cancer, but then you're just another number. I want to be more than just a number. I want to get others involved."

Trent was first diagnosed with osteosarcoma at age 15, when cancer was found in his shoulder area. Three years later, in 2017, cancer appeared in his hip and pelvis. Through tumor removal, bone replacement and aggressive treatment, Trent was able to overcome those bouts.

The cancer returned in March 2018, however, this time in an area of his spine where surgical removal wasn’t an option. Trent remained in school through the spring and even did an internship in Chicago over the summer but, despite more treatment, his worsening condition forced him out of school in the fall. Trent was awarded an associate degree from Purdue Polytechnic Institute in early October.

Trent's story and his advocacy also gained global recognition at that time, ultimately inspiring millions and generating untold funds for cancer research.

Already a much-followed social media presence, Trent became the subject of ESPN features, appeared in several national media outlets and received the Sagamore of the Wabash, the highest honor for Indiana civilians. He also was named the 2018 winner of the Disney Spirit Award, given annually by ESPN to college football’s most inspirational figure.

Trent wrote a book about his journey, as well. The book, titled "The Upset," is available for pre-order.

"Just realizing that whatever happens because of this, it's going to come out for good, whether I see that now or not," Trent said to the Exponent, Purdue's student newspaper, about the attention he received.

Knowing your why

Trent started giving as soon as cancer started taking. At just 15 years old, he saw firsthand the toll cancer took on the families of sufferers and acted on it by creating Teens with a Cause, a student support group. Trent oversaw the 200-person organization, dispatching teams to perform basic household chores for the families of cancer patients and others in need.

Trent's commitment to public service and awareness continued after his second diagnosis. Despite the fact that his replaced hip called for him to use a crutch to get around, Trent promptly became an active member of the Purdue University Dance Marathon club once he got to campus. That student organization raises funds and awareness for Riley Hospital for Children in Indianapolis, where Trent went for treatment.

He also served as the first student member of the Purdue University Center for Cancer Research Director's Advancement Board, as an honorary team captain during the Purdue football team's Hammer Down Cancer game and as the keynote speaker at one of the center's fundraising luncheons.

"Things like the Dance Marathon and the Hammer Down Cancer game are huge because funding is huge and awareness is huge," Trent said. "Something I've learned is to know your 'why.' I'm communicating my 'why' by advocating for cancer awareness and cancer research."

This strong sense of altruism stemmed from Trent's religious faith.

In fact, Trent had a tattoo on his ankle that signified his struggle and his faith. It depicted the familiar cancer awareness ribbon flipped on its side to look like an ancient symbol for a Christian, along with personal symbols that mean "God is greater than my highs and lows."

Tyler Trent's tattoo

Shaping a legacy

Perhaps the most inspirational part of Trent's story, however, is how he chose to live his daily life. He fought despondency by remaining positive and did his best to have a normal college experience.

Trent turned down Purdue's offer of a private dorm room, opting instead to bunk with another student, just like everyone else. He camped out for a football game, traveled to California for the team's December bowl game and covered the men's basketball team for the Exponent.

During this time, Trent remained a full-time student while also traveling back and forth to Riley at least once a week for treatment.

Still, no matter how hard he tried, Trent remained different. He was in constant pain. He researched his disease and considered his odds. Every day, he thought about things like his spirituality, his mortality and his lasting legacy.

"I want to leave a legacy that motivates people to be advocates. And that can be for whatever they choose, not necessarily cancer," Trent said. "Change only happens when we decide to actually do something about it. At the end of the day, there are generations behind me, as well. If I could motivate them, I would be a happy man."

By Aaron Martin

Support the Tyler Trent Endowment