By Teresa Varley
In the toughest of times it can take a simple hello or a smile to really pick up someone's spirits.
That was certainly the case when several Steelers players visited patients who were undergoing chemotherapy at Magee Women's Hospital as a part of breast cancer awareness month.
"I think it's absolutely wonderful," said Sally Miller of Peters Township. "I was so surprised and shocked. I would have had my Steelers jersey on had I known. I always watch the games. I am a huge fan. This was great to see them. It can cheer up a long day of chemotherapy."
And that is exactly what the players were hoping for. Deshea Townsend, Max Starks, Dennis Dixon and Tony Hills, all who have had someone close to them suffer from breast cancer, visited with the patients, including some who were there for the day to receive chemotherapy as well as others who were in-patients.
"For me it means a lot," said Starks, whose mother Eleanor is a 15-year breast cancer survivor. "It's affected all of us with women we love, admire and respect. For us to be able to give back, it's a good feeling in our hearts to say hello and encourage them. We want to bring a smile to their face and let them know we are praying for them."
There was laughter and tears, hugs and handshakes and plenty of football chatter throughout the afternoon.
"It was awesome," said Elaine Durkac of Kittaning. "Anybody who goes through cancer isn't having fun. Getting to meet these guys and the little bit of cheering up, we are going to carry this with us for days and talk to our friends about it. It's really wonderful."
While Starks is able to celebrate his mother's survival, the others haven't been as lucky. Both Townsend and Dixon lost their mother's to breast cancer, while Hills lost his grandmother.
"For me it's personal," said Townsend, whose mother Lena died in 1999. "It's the least I can do is to come out and try to make someone's day and let them know someone is there that cares about them. When my mom was going through it she didn't utilize all of the tools they have to get you through cancer. She kept it to herself. The more awareness we can create it will help a lot of people.
"It is heart wrenching to see what they are going through, but if you can take a moment and make them smile, it makes you feel a lot better and you hope it does the same for them."
They often say that laughter is the best medicine and on this day, that was truly the case. Whether it be the patient who had been waiting for hours for her appointment, or one who had a hat that clearly stated how she feels about cancer, or another who took off her wig and looked at the positive side, realizing if not for her cancer she wouldn't have met the players, it was healing for all.
"For the patients it's a great thing," said Dr. Adam Brufsky, co-medical director of Magee women's breast cancer program. "With the stuff they have to go through, for them to have someone that they respect and watch every Sunday, especially in a town like Pittsburgh where the Steelers are so strong, I think it's a really good thing for them."
And not just for them. For the players, while it was tough, it was also healing.
"To see the people here continue to fight and to be able to give them some help means a lot," said Hills, who lost his grandmother Lillian Lemons. "We had a lady we met that reminded me of my grandmother. That made it kind of hard. But it also brought a smile to my face seeing how happy us being here made her. That in turn made us happy. All we do is come here and say hi and when we leave they still have to fight this. To be able to give them smiles means a lot."
Dixon lost his mother, Jueretta, while he was enrolled at Oregon and it definitely was emotional for him to visit with the patients, who he got plenty of strength from.
"I just think about what my mom went through," said Dixon. "It's tough for me but I want to be able to touch people in special ways, whether it's small or big. In my eyes these people are my heroes and I look up to them."