Doctors found a congenital condition in the valve that connected Sands' esophagus to his stomach that gave him frequent heartburn and vomiting, but surgery to correct that didn't help the hiccups.
"I'm curled up in a ball on the floor, writhing around in pain, drinking water," he said.
After television appearances in both Britain and Japan, a "crazy" Japanese doctor offered to help find a cure by offering to stick a giant needle from his neck into his diaphragm, dodging his rib cage and arteries.
Sands declined, but by summer 2009, Sands was offered an all-expense paid trip to Japan as part of a documentary on his condition. There, a hiccup specialist ordered an MRI, which revealed the tumor.
In September 2009, doctors removed two thirds of the tumor from Sands' brain stem and since then, the hiccups have subsided.
Sands' medical case is "extremely rare," according to Dr. Martin Makary, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Surgical Outcomes Research in Baltimore.
"Most of the time, the brain tumor causes other problems or there are other problems and hiccups together," he told ABCNews.com. "He had only hiccups.
"Hiccups are frustrating for doctors because we don't have much to offer patients," Makary said. "There are a couple of home remedies, but nothing really works."
Luckily, Sands' tumor was located in the brain stem, where surgeons can more easily operate away from the major veins.
"The brain stem is a great location to remove tumors without a lot of peripheral damage, so [surgery] can be done with a very clean cut," Makary said.
Still, there were dangers.
Sands said his surgeon was "eccentric and confident in his ability, and so I trusted him."
"He said, 'There is no margin for error and if I make a mistake you are dead. Even if I don't make a mistake you could end up with a speech impediment or in a wheelchair for awhile,'" Sands said.
But without surgery, Sands said he would have been "dead within two years."
Today, Sands has a six-inch scar down the back of his neck and has general weakness on his left side that continues to improve. British doctors say it will take 18 months for him to recover fully.
He said he hopes to find a job so he can find his own place and will return to his band when he is stronger.
His prognosis is good and so are his spirits.
"I am happy and hiccup- and tumor-free," Sands said. "And I got to go to Tokyo twice."