Lifting their spirits

When they walked into the room all that could be heard was the beeping of machines and the voices of doctors and nurses.

After a few minutes, though, laughter filled the air as thoughts of getting chemotherapy soon vanished and fun took over for awhile.

"It's really a morale boaster," said Jim O'Connor, from Mt. Lebanon, Pa., who was receiving chemo. "It's great to see these guys. It's a real surprise. My kids would love this. They are even more rabid fans than I am. I never miss a game."

That was the impact Steelers Trai Essex, Justin Hartwig and Sean McHugh had on patients who were getting treatment at the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center.

"You can tell it is tough," said Hartwig. "When you walk into the room everybody is quiet and you come in and they all have a smile on their face. Everybody loves the Steelers in Pittsburgh. Anything I can do to brighten their day I will. They have the weight of the world on their shoulders having cancer. To put a smile on their face it brightens my day."

And it's the kind of medicine that even doctors can't deliver.

"It's very poignant they visit the treatment area," said Dr. Michael Gibson, assistant professor of medicine and clinical practicing oncologist and researcher. "It's where the patients have a lot of time to think about their cancer when they see their chemo drugs running in directly. Some of them told me it's easy to focus on the negative with extra time. Having Steelers players come by, as beloved as they are in the city, is an amazing boost for their spirits. Everybody loves the Steelers. Despite all of the activity it can get lonely for the patients so they like to have people come back and see what they are going through."

While most of the patients were diehard Steelers fans, including Toni Maroney from Pittsburgh's Carrick neighborhood who actually wore her Steelers jacket, there was one Browns fan in the mix but the players didn't mind as their goal was to just make everyone smile.

"It's good to see people out here," said Essex. "They're struggling and we want to put a little smile on their face to help them get through the day. Personally for me I have had people in my family with cancer so it hits home. It's good to help out. It's a great feeling to know I have that type of effect and the team has that type of effect just to get them through the day. It's a great feeling."

McHugh enjoyed getting to know some of the patients and especially had fun talking to a few that weren't just Steelers fans, but also fans of his alma mater Penn State.

"It's amazing," said McHugh. "These people are going through some tough times. The fact that you being there can brighten their day - it makes you feel good and appreciate what we do for a living and the impact we have on people."

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