Cooking for a cause


They laughed and joked, teased each other about their appetites and at one point, even pulled out a scale. But despite all of the fun they had, the message they were delivering was serious. And it was delivered from the heart.

For Dennis Dixon, Nick Eason, Tony Hills and Max Starks, taking part in the "Cooking and Eating for a Healthy Life" class at Magee Women's Hospital for breast cancer survivors was personal. They have all been impacted by breast cancer and shared their stories with those in attendance.

Dixon sadly lost his mother to breast cancer when he was just starting college. It was a tough time for him, and he has a willingness to go out and do whatever he can to help so nobody ever has to go through what he did.

"Being out here is a blessing for me," said Dixon, who dedicated his college career to his mom. "I would do it any day of the week. I have been affected and I want to put my best foot forward in regards to whatever it is. I have been there. I want to touch them any way I can. It affected me a lot losing my mom at a young age."

Hills also suffered the heartache when his grandmother succumbed to the disease.

"It helps to share my story because it's a chance for me to remember my grandma," said Hills. "Even though she had the disease, she fought it with everything she had."

 Eason's mother currently is battling the disease, still going through chemotherapy as she had a relapse since the first diagnosis.

"It was tough to go through that," said Eason of learning in January of 2009, just as he was preparing for Super Bowl XLIII, that his mother had breast cancer. "At first it didn't hit me until I went home one weekend and she took her hat off and her hair was gone. It broke me down in tears. It was tough. Just talking to her and the strength in her voice, it's the mental part not giving up. You can beat if."

To Eason's delight, she wasn't going to let the disease keep her from her son's crowing moment in his career.

"She came to the Super Bowl the day after her first chemo treatment," said Eason. "She came to the game and the party afterwards for a little while. That meant a lot to me. She had a lot of fun. I couldn't imagine her not being there. Those are the moments you want somebody who is close to you being there. I love her to death."

And for Starks, the story is one of survival as his mother battled the disease 20 years ago and is still going strong.   

"It's monumental. It's something I am proud of every single day," said Starks. "She is an inspiration to me. I know what she has overcome. I know nothing is insurmountable or out of reach from seeing what she's gone through.

"Every day, no matter how bad my day is going, no matter what obstacles I'm faced with, I know looking back at my mom and the strength she showed there is nothing too great or hard to overcome."  

It's those stories, the love for those women that brought the four players to Magee, to reach out to others to try and help. And it just so happened that preparing one of the recipes that is part of the healthy fare breast cancer survivors are encouraged to partake in to help fight against any recurrence of cancer was a way to do so.

"To have the opportunity to cook is fun, obviously by the size of Tony, Max and I we haven't missed many meals and we spend a lot of time in the kitchen," said Eason. "What better way to teach cancer patients about eating healthy. I am sure my mom would be proud of me if she were at the class today."

The survivors learning the cooking tips from the players had the chance to sample the fare, prepared in advance for them, served up by the players.

"This was awesome," said Elaine Stanisewski, decked out in a pink Steelers jersey. As a breast cancer survivor we like to be educated and prepare ourselves to not get the disease again. The Steelers taking the time to do this is great. As professionals you put them on a different level. You don't realize they come from a family just like you. They have the same problems you have."

Pink Terrible Towels and Steelers pink ribbon pins were handed out to the ladies, who proudly waved them in unison at the conclusion of the class. And the most encouraging thing, they all left with a smile.

"It's great to be able to put a smile on someone's face, especially when are going through a hard time," said Hills. "Any time we can come in and give a little knowledge to the people fighting breast cancer, it's a big key to get something positive started. You hear stories all of the time of people who have this disease and survive it. Something we did today might help someone 10 years down the road."

The cooking class was the kickoff of Breast Cancer Awareness month and what the Steelers are doing for it. On Sunday many of the players will be sporting pink gear, something that isn't lost on them.

"It's so crazy to think for 60 minutes we are trying to kill each other but at some point we give remembrance to those lost and encouragement to those fighting the disease."

To check out the recipes, which are part of "The New American Plate Cookbook," click on Healthy Options Recipes.

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