Hi everyone, Happy (Giving) Tuesday! For me, this time of year is always about family, friends and of course, football. It’s also a time to give back to my community and support people in need.
Every week I stand shoulder to shoulder with some of the strongest, mentally tough athletes in the world. As you know, the NFL is for warriors, but not many compare to the bravery and courage of my friend, Zane. I met Zane during my first visit to St. Jude back in 2013, when he was a patient battling Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. The first thing I remember about our meeting was his Florida Gator t-shirt (which I instantly LOVED)! To be honest, I was a little nervous to meet Zane, as he was already one of St. Jude’s spokespeople at such a young age – I was very impressed! During our visit we had a ton of fun making cupcakes, and immediately connected over the love of our Gators and his infectious personality.
For those of you not as familiar with St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, their mission is to advance cures, and means of prevention, for pediatric catastrophic diseases through research and treatment. Since its inception, no child has been denied treatment based on race, religion, or a family's ability to pay. And to this point, St. Jude has helped push the overall survival rate for childhood cancer from 20% to 80%.
Back in 2010, on an average Tuesday, Zane went to school, ate his lunch, played with friends – all was normal. Only the three pink dots on his cheek were out of the ordinary. Concerned it might be a rash or chicken pox, his mom took him to the doctor. The doctor recognized it could be petechiae, a sign of something more serious. And indeed, labs showed that Zane had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, a form of blood cancer. He was referred to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, where they are leading the way the world understands, treats, and defeats childhood cancer and other life-threatening diseases. Zane’s mom, Maranda stated that “One of the greatest things about St. Jude is their children-first attitude. The entire staff is ready to answer children’s questions and use play therapies to help facilitate care while families heal.” Zane underwent two-and-a-half years of chemotherapy as a very little boy. Now 15 years old (and in Eighth Grade), he remains cancer-free. “It is all thanks to St. Jude,” said Maranda. “They give families hope.”
Earlier this year, I was reconnected with Zane and caught up with him on how he’s been since our first meeting. When I asked him about his experience and how he would describe St. Jude, he said “St. Jude is not a dark and grim, scary hospital. It’s the opposite…it’s more than a hospital, it’s a family!”
I am truly honored to have been selected as the first female recipient of the coveted Pat Summerall Award during this year’s Super Bowl in Los Angeles at the Legends for Charity Dinner which benefits St. Jude – a charity so very dear to me. This was the perfect time to revisit my friend and Florida Gator fan, Zane. Best friends for life – me and this incredible kid!