As part of the team's Crucial Catch campaign, the Seahawks hosted cancer survivors at practice on Thursday at Virginia Mason Athletic Center, where players and coaches met with the individuals and their families following the club's afternoon workout.
Sara Davis told her first graders this week that she was going to do her other job and wouldn't see them for a day.
"What job?" they asked, curious since the Enumclaw resident recently returned to teaching at Black Diamond Elementary School full time.
Davis confessed she was attending a closed practice of the Seattle Seahawks as a cancer survivor and that her other job was teaching, educating and urging people to find cancer early.
As if on cue, under a spectacular fall sunshine behind Virginia Mason Athletic Center, Davis and three other cancer survivors, their families, doctors and a few medical personnel watched Thursday as the Seahawks prepared for their Crucial Catch game on Sunday against the Houston Texans.
Crucial Catch is a partnership between the National Football League and the American Cancer Society to support the fight against cancer through the Crucial Catch: Intercept Cancer program. After nearly a decade of supporting breast cancer, the campaign now includes other cancers that can be detected early by specific screenings, such as lung, breast, colon, cervical, skin and prostate cancers. This year, the Seahawks will pay tribute to cancer survivors at halftime during the Crucial Catch game.
As the survivors and their families gathered around the sidelines, Seattle head coach Pete Carroll walked to the center of the group and welcomed them to the practice field with a few handshakes and hellos to the children.
"I have to tell you that you are my heroes," Carroll said. "We're honored to have you here."
Lung cancer survivor Cindy Marks smiled when she heard Carroll thank them for coming. Last month, she had a lower lobe of her left lung removed after Virginia Mason doctors found a spot. A non-smoker, Marks is finishing up chemotherapy and then, she says, she won't sweat the small stuff for a while. Marks said she was thrilled when asked if she wanted to watch a closed practice of the Seahawks.
"It shows what a good community partner the Seahawks are," she added.
Lung Cancer Rates Improving
Dr. Michal Hubka, a thoracic surgeon specializing in lung cancer at Virginia Mason, said lung cancer is one of those diseases that 20 years ago, no one expected to survive. With new technology, more awareness, smoking cessation programs and aggressive treatment, patient survivor rates have risen and patients have more reason to feel optimistic.
"I was happy to hear that the Seahawks, for the Crucial Catch game, were supporting all cancers this year. Lung cancer doesn't get a lot of attention, because it's always associated with smoking," Hubka said. "But a quarter of our patients don't smoke or have never smoked."
Hubka said he was delighted to hear the messaging from Crucial Catch that early detection saves lives. He said an early screening for those at risk is "easy, quick and not invasive at all—it takes a four-minute CAT scan." People at high risk include those aged 55-80 with a history of smoking.
Colon Cancer Curable at Early Detection
With the Seahawks also focusing on colon cancer for the Crucial Catch game, Dr. Shalini Kanneganti, a colon and rectal surgeon at CHI Franciscan Health, said the irony of colon cancer is that if detected early, there is a 90 percent survivor and cure rate. If undetected, survival rates are very low.
"Most patients don't produce symptoms, so it's important to know your family history," Kanneganti said. "The biggest scare and complaint is the preparation the day before the colonoscopy, but it's really so much easier nowadays."
Kanneganti said by age 50, men and women should have a colonoscopy as a baseline. It should be age 40 if there is a family history.
Sara Davis, a stage 4 colon cancer survivor, said there are women like her who were diagnosed with gynecological problems masking colon cancer.
"I will live with cancer the rest of my life," Davis said. "But I am a fighter who is meant to be here. And I tell others that it's up to you to survive. Be your own advocate."
Early Screening And Detection Can Save Lives
The Crucial Catch message focuses on early screening and detection when lives can be saved from cancer. Dr. Lynn Clark, a breast cancer surgeon from CHI Franciscan Health said early detection equals dramatically increased survival rate.
"Once you've done your screening, tell 10 friends, and have them tell 10 friends," Clark said. "Knowledge is power."
Christina Olson, who was diagnosed with breast cancer 10 months ago, said her cancer was discovered early, thanks to the Seahawks and the NFL.
"I was broke, and I heard that the Seahawks and the NFL were sponsoring free mammograms," Olson said. "I signed up and that's when my breast cancer was discovered. I owe the Seahawks my life."
Tamara Banda, meanwhile, remains positive despite a diagnosis of both brain and breast cancer. She was excited to watch the Seahawks rehearse in preparation for the Crucial Catch game and meeting players after practice. She said she'll be in the crowd, cheering on the home team.
"You can't let cancer define you," said Banda, who has had both brain cancer surgery and a lumpectomy. "A good attitude and looking forward is the best way to approach this. I feel good today."
Get personalized tips to reduce your risk of cancer by downloading The Defender, an online health assessment tool developed by the American Cancer Society and the NFL. After answering a few questions (age, gender, lifestyle, eating habits) people will receive MVP tips—Most Valuable Prevention tips—to help reduce cancer risks. To sign up, go to thedefender.cancer.org. You can even personalize it with Seahawks colors.