The stories of the patients at the IU Simon Cancer Center are as different as the stories of the players in the Colts locker room. But they all have one thing in common – their lives have been touched by cancer.
Kristen Parker is 27 years old. This spring, she was tired all the time and noticed strange bruising on her legs. She went to urgent care thinking she had anemia or an iron deficiency. On June 10th, she was admitted to the hospital. The next day, she was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia.
She grew up in Carmel and her parents are Colts season ticket members. She remembers watching former Colts coach Chuck Pagano battle the same type of cancer.
"He reached out to me and texts me every now and then checking in," she said. "He's been a great mentor and support system, having been through the same thing and having someone else to talk to about that has been inspiring."
On Tuesday, she had a visit from the Colts.
"As much support as you can get and prayers and thoughts and all of that – so, having the Colts come by today was very uplifting and kind of gives you hope. It pushes you even more to just stay motivated and positive and look on to the next day and many more to come."
Parker plans to attend the Colts game against the Buffalo Bills on October 21st and looks forward to seeing cancer survivors recognized as part of the NFL's Crucial Catch campaign.
"It's definitely been an emotional journey and now being a part of the cancer community, just the support throughout – whether it be leukemia or breast cancer or any other cancer, just seeing other survivors out there is going to be such motivation to just keep fighting and know that one day, that could be me."
For linebacker Zaire Franklin, that's what it's all about.
On Tuesday, October 9, the Indianapolis Colts visited the IU Health Simon Cancer Center. Colts players visited approximately 50 patients in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, sharing words of encouragement and spreading joy.
"Today, we're just coming in trying to put smiles on faces. We know everybody here is going through some tough times. They've got big battles in front of them and we're just coming to give them a little motivation and a little joy," he said.
He enjoyed listening to their stories and also sharing his. Because just like them, cancer is a part of his story.
"My aunt, she's actually my guardian, she just recently rang the bell to say she's cancer free," he said. "I just remember her calling and FaceTiming her during my Combine training because I couldn't be home. I know how tough that was on her and my family trying to help support her."
But all the while - even while battling breast cancer, she was there to support him. And when the Colts played the Eagles in Philadelphia, she was there with the rest of his family to cheer him on.
"When we got off our bus to go to the hotel on Race Street, they were all sitting there cheering. Andrew asked me if I had my own parade waiting for me. It was pretty awesome. They're big fans of football. They love the game and she's originally a Steelers fan, but I think she changed teams for us."
And in honor of her, he's paying it forward – supporting other cancer patients in their battle.
"It's not that I understand what they're going through, but I've seen someone I love go through similar struggles. I know how hard some of these days get for people going through this," he said. "Give them a little bit of joy in these tough times or even share a success story just to make them feel better and know that bell is close and they're going to get there one day."
Ethan Varnett has spent more time in hospitals than any four-year-old should.
"It's been tough since Dad got cancer," his mom, Beverly, told him as they walked the halls. Her husband, Daniel, has been battling cancer since 2016.
This week, Ethan got a special treat – he got to meet the Colts players and cheerleaders. But the highlight for him was a hug from Colts mascot, Blue.
"He loved it," she said. "That's all he's talked about since we saw him downstairs."
So many people, so many stories.
"One guy was at Frank Reich's comeback in Buffalo, which is pretty cool. He was all jazzed up about that," said safety Matthias Farley. "There's just a lot of life in there."
For the Colts, it's all part of the job. When they're not on the field, they're in the community – giving back the support that's been so generously given to them.
"If you play on any team in a city, you're a part of that city," Farley said. "So, this is how you become even more a part of that city – is just loving on people and giving back and taking the time – it does just as much for us as it does for them, maybe more."
Just like the city has their back, the Colts have the back of their city – and everyone in it.
"We play a game we all love playing, but it pales in comparison to what these people are going through on a day in and day out basis," said Farley. "And they've got a smile on their face, so it's not right in my opinion to not have a smile on ours."
For more information on how the Colts are supporting A Crucial Catch, visit Colts.com/CrucialCatch.