Tim Steadman/Icon SMI :: Bob Donnan/US PRESSWIRE
Tim Steadman/Icon SMI :: Bob Donnan/US PRESSWIRE

Wear Pink For My Mom, Who Lived to Love

My mother’s decade-long battle with breast cancer is over now, but mine is just beginning. To honor her, and my four aunts who died from the disease, I want to ask one small favor of you. Well, two actually

By DeAngelo Williams

My mom didn’t tell me she had breast cancer before she got a double mastectomy. That was kept a secret, from me at least, because she didn’t want me worrying about her and getting distracted because, well, I’m a mama’s boy.

During the middle of my third season at the University of Memphis, she received a diagnosis that required the removal of her breasts and lymph nodes. The diagnosis was no surprise to her, or the rest of us. Her father had the mutated breast cancer 1 gene and passed it along to his five daughters. My first aunt diagnosed with breast cancer, Linda Faye, died in 1992, at 32. Mamie Earl was my second aunt to pass away from the disease, in 2004, the same year two of her sisters (Mary Beatrice and my mom) found out they had breast cancer. Mary died in ’05. My youngest aunt, Theresa Gaye, died from it three years ago; then my beautiful mom on May 16, 2014.

Breast cancer, whether I like it or not, is part of my family’s story. That’s why I am so passionate about raising awareness, because I have seen firsthand how it can impact others. One time, a lady came up to me and said she was going to get examined just because she saw me wearing pink cleats during a game. I walked away thinking, Wow, pink is really so much more than just a color. It’s a lifesaver. It’s awareness. If we reach one, we reach millions. If we reach millions, we’re doing our job and getting closer to finding a cure.

I remember the summer when my mom finally told me about her diagnosis. I was less than a year away from the NFL. She joked that she elected to have the surgery after the football season because “your offseason is my offseason.” That’s how she was—fiercely protective of me and my interests. After I hurt my ankle during a high school game, my mom ran from the bleachers and “jumped” over the fence (she probably didn’t jump, but that’s the way it was described to me). She was the first person I saw when I got back to the bench, and she said, “What’d they do to my baby!?” To which I said, “Hey, Mama, go back in the stands!”

DeAngelo Williams and his mom, Sandra Kay Hill. (Courtesy Photo)
DeAngelo Williams and his mom, Sandra Kay Hill. (Courtesy Photo)

Sandra Kay Hill is the biggest reason I’ve been able to enjoy eight NFL seasons, going on nine with the Panthers. My two sisters—Kinya, 34, and Garlanda, 26—and I can trace all of our personal and professional successes back to her love and support growing up in Wynne, Arkansas. The byline on this column reads DeAngelo Williams, but these aren’t my words alone. Everything I say here is an extension of her voice, her strength and her courage.

In 2010, six years after doctors told her that the cancer was in remission, it came back the way it’s engineered to do so. She moved into a new home in Wynne with my father as she resolved to fight the cancerous tide all over again. It never went away, but it wasn’t until just a couple of months ago that she began showing signs of getting worse. When she could no longer walk with ease, she had her bed moved from the bedroom to the living room, replacing the couch as the family’s meeting place. Her nephews, nieces and grandchildren all but lived in that bed during visits, crawling over her and laying down to watch movies like Disney’s Frozen. We’d tell the kids to be careful, but she’d just brush us off.

It would be her deathbed. For one of our last conversations, not long before she passed, I wrote down what I wanted to say on a notepad, because I wasn’t sure I’d be able to deliver the words without breaking down. Swollen and emaciated, she looked like a ghost of the woman I had known.

“Mom,” I said, pulling a chair up next to her bed. “I just want to tell you how I feel about you. I’m upset and I don’t know how to take this because I’ve never been in this situation.”

She stopped me.

“This is what I want you to remember me by,” she said. “None of your aunties made it to the age of 50 and today I’m 53. I’ve stolen a few years and have enjoyed every minute, especially thanks to those two incredible granddaughters you’ve given me. You and your sisters are safe and know how to maintain and live and survive.

“My job here is done.”

Spontaneously, her words changed my perspective. There I was, upset beyond everything, and she’s never batted an eye, cried or complained. In those last days, when a family member would leave the room to cry, she could hear them around the corner and she would demand that the tears stop.

“I’m going home,” she’d say. “You gonna cry because I’m going home? This is supposed to be a celebration.”

The challenge my mother laid down: Fight breast cancer for every woman who comes after you, who will suffer as you suffered. God willing, no woman will feel as though she has to face this disease alone.

One day, we will defeat this disease that steals our mothers, our aunts, our sisters, our daughters and our wives before their time. Until then, when we face the last days of our loved ones’ lives, we should do so without fear. And until that final day comes, we have to fight, just as my mom did.

I’ll always remember her smile, which grew wider when her children and grandchildren shared it. That never went away. She never stopped sharing that love. One of my favorite stories about her is one that I recently just heard for the first time. When she passed, I was searching for a place to host her repast. (For those unfamiliar with a repast, it’s where friends and family gathered, ate, and celebrated my mom’s life after her funeral and burial.) One of my friends recommended that I reach out to a woman who books events at this place in Wynne called the Tech Center, which is like a big community center.

DeAngelo Williams and his mom, Sandra Kay Hill, before a Memphis game in November 2005. ( Nelson Chenault/US PRESSWIRE)
DeAngelo Williams and his mom, Sandra Kay Hill, before a Memphis game in November 2005. (Nelson Chenault/US PRESSWIRE)

I had no idea of this woman’s connection to my mom, but as she gave me a tour of the facility, she told me how my mom had been an inspiration to her, a guiding light in a time of trouble. She explained that she was diagnosed with breast cancer about a year ago, and that she was introduced to my mom via a group text message. She went on to say that my mom walked her through the process in great detail, and on a regular basis. My mom was an expert by then, having watched four sisters pass away. Even though they’d never met in person, she kept in touch with this woman, texting her scriptures and inspirational messages. She had been for this woman the kind of rock she was for all of us, even though her demise was right around the corner.

That’s the challenge my mother laid down for all of us: Don’t just fight this disease for yourself. Fight it for every woman who comes after you, who will suffer as you suffered. God willing, no woman will feel as though she has to face this disease alone.

On Saturday, May 24th, at 3 p.m. CST, we buried my mother at Crosslawn Cemetery in Wynne, Arkansas. My mother’s fight is over now, but mine is just beginning. While I am so thankful for all that goes on during October to raise awareness for breast cancer, I want to ask one small favor of each of you.

Well, two actually.

First, wear a pink shirt at least once a month, and make it a point to tell people that you’re doing so to help remind everyone that breast cancer awareness is 365 days a year. Second, it’s true that early detection is the best prevention, so please call, text, email, tweet or Facebook five women you care about (in honor of my mom and her four sisters) and ask them if they’ve gotten a mammogram lately. Do this for five people, and ask them to do it for five more, and then five more after that. Keep it going, and keep doing this for all of the women around the world who live with and die from this disease—and for my mom, who lived to love.

 

DeAngelo Williams’ mom, Sandra Kay Hill, was the inspiration behind the NFL allowing players to wear pink cleats in 2009. The DeAngelo Williams Foundation is committed to providing free mammograms to women in Charlotte, Memphis, and Wynne, Arkansas—and hopefully throughout the entire country in the near future. Donations can be made here.

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31 comments
aldersgateumc
aldersgateumc

DeAngelo......my family and I met you when you first moved to Charlotte at Chris Stone's birthday party.  My son, Matt, and Chris were best friends.  Y'all played video games together.  You impressed me from that first meeting, and the loving message you wrote about your mom just emphasizes what a truly wonderful son and young man you are.  I can feel the pride your mother felt in you.  Having a son (and daughter) myself, I can tell you that means the world to a mother.  Thank you for your message.  I will take it with me and spread the word.  God bless you.

bhayes420
bhayes420

As a fellow Memphis alum...I'm so very proud of DeAngelo.  Very touching article.  

patriot1burke
patriot1burke

Wow!  I cried man, I cried.  What she said to her son on her deathbed just killed me.  Beautiful man, beautiful

Scramble
Scramble

That's a pretty sad story. With all that cancer in the family wasn't there some kind of preventative steps that could have been taken. After HMO's failed insurance companies don't seem to want to take many preventative steps.

ConnieProctorRobertson
ConnieProctorRobertson

What an honorable writing and tribute!  Cancer is all through my family, and ,I too, am an advocate for fighting breast cancer, as my mom is 92 and a survivor after a mastectomy almost 20 years ago.  Plus, 3 more of her sisters have had mastectomies. We've been so blessed to have her with us for so long.   I'm on board for wearing pink at least once a month.  Though you'll miss your mom, I'm so happy to hear she passed to a life where she is free of cancer, and she was happy to meet her Saviour.  Celebrate with her.  I hope to pass one day with this kind of graciousness.

jimmbsc
jimmbsc

What a well written and thoughtful story. Pink will be on tonight and I will pay it forward to my lady friends. Us Momma Boys have to stick together.

SlyThompson
SlyThompson

Wow, I will be adding a few more pink shirts to the closet.

AmandaBrowning
AmandaBrowning

This is truly a honorable article and I have cried reading it.  My mother had breast/cervical cancer and went to be with the good Lord in October 2003 after 14 years of battle.  My nephew is actually Ms. Sandra's great nephew and I know the battle she fought and how strong she was, just like my mom.  Always worrying about others and their troubles, illness and if they had the Lord in their life.  These special woman are now angels in Heaven, special ones at that.  Not only am I an advocate for breast cancer screenings but I had a scare myself so starting at the age of 30 I had to get mammos, I'm now 35 and still no cancer.  Here is my peace to add though, MEN SHOULD BE TESTED AS WELL, especially if the gene is in your family.  I will do my part DeAngelo!! 

ahrcshaw
ahrcshaw

Great, DW you outdid yourself.

TanyaHallJones
TanyaHallJones

What a beautiful story about the strength and love of a mother. We truly love our children, even if it's with our last breath. As a mother, I am sure she found peace in knowing that you and your siblings were safe. We always want to know our children are safe. It's a mother's constant prayer. May God continue to bless and keep you.

ecp_unix
ecp_unix

God bless and keep you young man. I am so sorry for your loss. Your mom was right, she is home now, forever in the presence of the Savior. I will do as you ask and wear pink once a month. Figuring out who to send my text to tight now.

wolvie411
wolvie411

a very powerful and loving article. Will definitely do the 2 things you ask. 

JustcallmeDee
JustcallmeDee

Wow what an honorable idea.  My mother also had breast cancer, but Thank God she has been in remission since 2008.  I skipped my mammogram for the last 3 years but because of this I'm making an appointment today.  Thank you very much for your thoughtfulness for women.

RichardSeymour
RichardSeymour

much respect man. Keep playing hard and honour your mom the best way you know how! 


From Dolphins fans across the world

KevinWeiker
KevinWeiker

I promise I will continue wearing pink every chance I get, in memory of Sandra (who I had the pleasure of meeting on a couple occasions) and for ever other woman who has had to fight, fought, won, or lost, a battle with this disease.  Keep Pounding man.

ReeseWalker
ReeseWalker

thank you for sharing your story.  My mom battled cancer also but she is home with lord now resting. Keep spreading this grat story!!!

deewa2008
deewa2008

What a great son. My sister-in-law lost a 3 yr battle to lung cancer on Sept 11, 2007. We've all had someone we know & care about pass to cancer.

I am 60. I remember my dad in the 1950s going to see a client in the hospital. He came home telling my mother, within my ear shot, about the blue medicine they had painted his mouth & throat with, and within a few short weeks, he died.... Cancer. A girl down the street had polio, but they found a vaccine & we were all safe. I thought of course they'll find a cure for that cancer, too; within at least 10 yrs, I remember thinking. 50+ yrs later, cancer is just as nasty and stealth as ever. I wear pink...  Thank you DeAngelo Williams

Wisconsin Death Trip
Wisconsin Death Trip

This country wastes so much money on trivial things....while people continue to die from diseases we may actually be able to cure...NOW. 

Glenn12
Glenn12

Wow. Such a powerful letter. Thanks for sharing this. I hope it helps many others to survive this horrible disease.

MikeWashington
MikeWashington

May GOD bless you and be with you on your journey to bring awareness about this terrible disease. The NFL and ESPN need to report more stories about players like Mr. Williams instead of all the criminals, and selfish players who are always involved in something negative. . Kudos to you sir!

Raider_Hayter
Raider_Hayter

God bless, and I admire your strength to write this. My mom is currently battling cancer, and unless you walk a mile in those shoes... I have no words other than thank you for this. It brought me to tears, but it makes me fight harder, for my mom, and other women. Peace be with you, brother.

theslamdunktrove
theslamdunktrove

Thanks for sharing you and your mother's powerful story, DeAngelo. I hope that your challenge gets the attention that it deserves.

olansuddeth
olansuddeth

I am sorry for your loss, DeAngelo.  Kudos to your mother for helping you to become the class act that you are today.

Jason1988
Jason1988

So honored to have him representing the University of Memphis. Go Tigers and go DeAngelo. 

DianeKillianWeeks
DianeKillianWeeks

I'm definitely on board with wearing pink at least once a month. I just had my annual mammogram last week and am waiting on the results which I expect to be alright. I've had a few scares and had a biopsy once which came out okay. Thank you for your foundation DeAngelo and all you do for breast cancer. I know it is a passion of yours. Your mom was an amazing woman and I know this from being her friend on FB and reading her posts and such. She also raised an amazing son in you. You and your entire family are in my daily prayers. This is a wonderful remembrance and honor to your mother. May you continue on in your passion for this terrible disease. Love you all!

GJF715
GJF715

DeAngelo,


The apple didn't fall far from the tree. Your mom must be so proud of you.


Blessings,

Gary

GJF715
GJF715

DeAngelo,


The apple didn't fall far from the tree. Your mother must be so proud of you.


Blessings,

Gary

IndiaHamilton
IndiaHamilton

Arkansas Banshees have a game Saturday, we are going to run with this idea to support your family and those with breast cancer. We are wearing pink as well! Rest in Peace to your mom!

Barry Alan
Barry Alan

My regrets for your loss. My mother also died from breast cancer four years ago, after a seven-year fight. Sign me up. I'll be wearing that pink shirt AND the pink ribbon symbolizing the fight, once a month from now on. 


Bless you for taking time to write this, and for your foundation.

BenMyers
BenMyers

I am sorry for your loss, and impressed beyond words you could put together such a tribute so soon after.  People need to heed what you wrote here.  


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