Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Health

Bucs players serve up hope, happiness to cancer patients

TAMPA

Connor Barth stacked the empty paper plates on his forearms and grabbed a few more with his hands before whisking the trash away to a can.

"I used to be a dishwasher," the Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker said as he used the moment to laugh with residents of the American Cancer Society's Benjamin Mendick Hope Lodge on Tuesday afternoon.

Barth, running back Doug Martin and linebacker Adam Hayward went to the Hope Lodge to present a $5,000 check on behalf of the team in recognition of breast cancer awareness month.

But they spent most of the time meeting the Hope Lodge's residents, hearing their stories and doing after-dinner chores to lighten the burden on people already fighting for their lives.

The Hope Lodge, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary, provides 40 free suites for H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center patients during outpatient treatment.

"Honestly, we're just showing our support to the community," said Hayward, 28, who has played for the Bucs for six years and is a team captain.

In the past few years, the NFL has taken part in a breast cancer awareness campaign that includes everything from pink team merchandise to pink cleats on the field on Sunday.

Hayward's personal history with breast cancer spurred him to become an activist and involve himself heavily in local awareness campaigns like the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure and various fund-raisers for screenings.

His mother died of breast cancer in August 2004, while he was playing college football at Colorado State. It had been in remission, but a rescreening showed the disease had returned and spread to her liver.

"It was horrible. The doctor told us everything was fine," he said. The experience of losing his mother made him more aware that screening is the key to saving lives.

"People think they have to give thousands of dollars, but my biggest thing is, it's $100 for one screening. If you donate $100, you can help one person," he said.

Patients at the Hope Lodge agreed that screening is key, but added that a second opinion can also be of great benefit.

Patty Youngblood, 46, of Williston came to Moffitt for a second opinion on colon cancer and found a less invasive treatment option and a lifetime of care for her family.

"They support you physically, mentally and emotionally," Youngblood said. "Because of my family history with cancer, they set me up with lifetime screening for my two children."

Marlene Peruski, 75, of North Port, who has only one more week to go in the Hope Lodge for her lung cancer treatment, said dinner with the Bucs players was a highlight for her.

"It's very nice," she said. "The players are all very nice and personable. This has been the best of all the events we've had."

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