Getting ready to face the Atlanta Falcons this week, a special group of breast cancer survivors and their children watched as the rain pounded the turf and Seattle players practiced outside in the wet conditions. In a closed practice, it was a sight few outsiders witness.
In recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness month, the Seahawks invited a few cancer survivors to Virginia Mason Athletic Center, and many more survivors to be guests of the Seahawks at 'A Crucial Catch' game, sponsored by the National Football League across the country. The "pink game" on October 16 is the Seahawks' only home game this month.
After practice, word got out about the special guests on the sidelines and football players gravitated to the small crew, shaking hands, signing autographs and giving bear hugs. Four children beamed as quarterback Russell Wilson asked each child a question and gave a couple of high-fives. Defensive end Michael Bennett, singing as he walked off the football field, continued singing to the children as he signed footballs.
"For these children to see that people care about their moms—they will never forget it," said offensive line coach Tom Cable, as he watched the interaction.
Cable knows the world of breast cancer well. His mother and his mother-in-law are currently fighting breast cancer, and his wife Carol owns a Hospice company in Nevada.
"Cancer is a family disease—it affects more than just the patient," said Cable. "It touches everyone. It's an honor for our league and our franchise to play a part in breast cancer awareness month. It's an honor to create positive memories for these kids."
One of VMAC's visitors, Kyrsten Kehlenbach, 44, had a well-designed game plan when it came to breast cancer. She set an alarm on her phone for a monthly self-examination. When she discovered a lump in October of 2015, she was surprised.
"I was the last person anyone thought would get breast cancer—I was a vegetarian, exercised and took care of myself and even drank green tea," Kehlenbach said. "I suddenly joined a club that I never wanted to be a part of. But now, I'm standing on the shoulders of all those giants who came before me."
Shannon Chancellor, 46, had yearly mammograms and discovered two small calcifications during an exam. Her Virginia Mason physician said the calcifications could lead to full-blown cancer.
"I was at stage zero, so the mammogram detected the disease before it could become stage one," she said. "That is how important early exams can be."
As someone who checks patients into Virginia Mason, Leah Mitts, 47, said her breast cancer diagnosis gave her insight to how patients feel when coming into a hospital or clinic. Mitts was part of the wellness program at Virginia Mason, and when her reminder said to do a mammogram, her Stage I breast cancer was discovered.
"I hope I can spread a message of hope," said Mitts, who was treated with six weeks of radiation due to the fact her cancer was caught early. "I've been there and I know it's frightening. Early screening really makes a big difference.
'A Crucial Catch' is a partnership between the NFL and the American Cancer Society to help increase breast cancer awareness and encourage early screening. In addition, the American Cancer Society offers programs and services to help the more than 1.4 million cancer patients diagnosed each year in this country, and the 11 million cancer survivors, as well as family and friends. Those programs include rides to treatment, lodging during treatment, hair loss and mastectomy products and a personal cancer guide. The help is always free.
At this weekend's game between the Seahawks and Falcons, 30,000 pink ribbons will be distributed to 12s as they enter CenturyLink Field. In Touchdown City, pink breast cancer awareness capes will be awarded and representatives will be on site to share information about the importance of early screening. On the field, players and coaches will help spread awareness by wearing pink athletic gear and using pink equipment, and the Sea Gals will pay tribute to those fighting breast cancer with a special halftime performance.
All pink game-worn gear will be auctioned off at NFLAuction.com, with proceeds benefiting the American Cancer Society.
The Seahawks hosted several breast cancer survivors and their children at practice on Thursday, October 13 as part of breast cancer awareness month and to help promote early screening.