EAGAN, Minn. – Connie Thompson knows the importance of early detection.
In 2016, doctors discovered Thompson's triple-negative breast cancer early on, making it possible to combat the disease with a lumpectomy, chemotherapy and 14 weeks of radiation.
Thompson had been completely cancer free until this past January, when it was discovered she had DCIS, the earliest form of breast cancer, on the other side. She underwent a second lumpectomy and radiation and currently is taking Tamoxifen.
Thompson consistently worked as a volunteer with the American Cancer Society, an organization she credits for being a survivor.
"Many years ago, they didn't even know about triple-negative. So the research that was done probably helped save my life," she said. "I feel like I want to give back, and the way I do that is by sponsoring fundraisers at my house. … I love all the people I've met at ACS; they're wonderful."
Thompson also is grateful for Vikings fullback C.J. Ham and his wife Steph, who annually host the "Pamper Her Purple" event to honor women who have survived cancer or who are currently battling. The event is held in conjunction with the NFL's "Crucial Catch: Intercept Cancer" initiative.
"I'm totally amazed with the two of them," Thompson said. "I follow C.J. every Vikings game, and Stephanie is just such a wonderful person. I think it's wonderful the NFL and Vikings sponsor Crucial Catch because it's so, so important. Both of my instances were caught really early, and because of that, I had treatment right away and am still alive."
C.J. and Steph started Pamper Her Purple in part to honor the memory of C.J.'s mother Tina, who courageously fought pancreatic cancer before her passing in 2021. In partnership with ACS and Sleep Number, the event provides women with a full afternoon of spa treatments at the Omni Viking Lakes Hotel and concludes with a special evening reception.
"Seeing what my mom went through three years ago and knowing a lot of these women have experienced a lot of those same things and are still going through some of those things today … my mom was the strongest person I ever knew. And I know all these people here are just as strong," C.J. said. "They wouldn't be here if they weren't. So [I encouraged them] to keep on fighting and just to enjoy today and everything that comes with it."
This year, Pamper Her Purple held a few extra surprises for the 14 women and Camille, a 7-year-old survivor of pediatric cancer.
Vikings Head Coach Kevin O'Connell stopped by to greet the group following a brief tour of Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center, and he encouraged them in their respective journeys.
"My family has been directly impacted by cancer, and we all have our own stories, none more personal than your guys' stories here today," O'Connell said. "I have so much faith and admiration for the people who are faced with adversity and willing to fight the fight, because that's what it's all about. And more importantly, fighting the fight knowing you've got the support of so many.
"It's important that everyone here knows that not only myself, but our whole team, C.J., we're all right there with you, every step of the way," O'Connell added. "Every single moment that adversity continues to hit in our lives, and none much greater than cancer, the only thing you can do is get up the next day and keep on fighting. And when the next day comes, you just keep on getting up and keep on fighting, and eventually we will beat this. And we'll beat it together."
View photos of the 3rd annual 'Pamper Her Purple' event hosted by C.J. and Steph Ham at the Twin Cities Orthopedic Center and Omni Viking Lakes Hotel.
O'Connell connected 1-on-1 with Camille, complimenting her courage in defeating the disease at such a young age, as well as her parents and younger brother.
Each Pamper Her Purple guest received a pillow and throw blanket, courtesy of Sleep Number, and an authentic Crucial Catch football. They also were treated to a beautiful rendition of the song "Rise Up" by Vikings Legend Esera Tuaolo that moved many of the women to tears.
Then, C.J. offered a final surprise.
"I hope you all don't have anything going on Sunday," he said, "because we'd like you all to come out to our game against the Chiefs!"
Cheers erupted from the guests, who each will receive two tickets to Sunday's matchup against the Chiefs.
"We're at the stadium every weekend, so you can sometimes forget the excitement and energy of [being at a game in-person]," Steph said. "To honor them and have them here for such a big game – it's going to be a fun game – it's just going to be so special."
Added C.J.: "October, Crucial Catch month, has always been very important, but over the past handful of years it's been even more important. To be able to have them come to the game and be honored and have all eyes on them, it's super special."
Vikings Chief Operating Officer Andrew Miller also addressed the group, sharing that his father battled prostate cancer and eventually passed away from lymphoma.
"Crucial Catch is so important," Miller said. "Cancer has impacted every single one of us. It's encouraging to see all these women here today … and it's important to us as an organization to support them as they try to beat cancer."
Dave Benson, Executive Vice President of the American Cancer Society's North Region, shared some encouraging statistics around cancer and the rise in survival rates.
According to Benson, there currently are 18 million cancer survivors living in the United States. Mortality rates have also fallen an incredible 33 percent since their peak in 1991.
"We're flattening the curve on cancer mortality, and what that means is if we hadn't done that, if we hadn't had that progress, about 3.8 million more people would have lost their lives to cancer. But that's not what happened. Instead, those are 3.8 million lives saved," Benson explained. "If there's one message we want to get out through Crucial Catch, it's that cancer screening saves lives.
"We really encourage people to talk to their doctors, use The Defender tool, to learn about what cancer screenings you should be considering," Benson added. "We know that when we detect cancer early, it's more treatable and you have a better chance of surviving that cancer diagnosis. That's so, so important and will help us continue to create more survivors in this country."
Benson emphasized the impact C.J. and Steph make through Pamper Her Purple.
"Cancer is so hard. It just rocks people's word. But this has been a huge opportunity for us to create hope," Benson said. "These cancer survivors who are here today, they've been fighting and fighting. So a chance for C.J. and Stephanie to give them a day where they can just feel the hope and the love of this community, it speaks volumes about C.J., Stephanie and the whole Vikings organization. It's an incredible day."
And for C.J., the day provides an opportunity not only to give back but to keep Tina's memory and legacy alive.
He knows she would have loved Pamper Her Purple and its mission.
"I wish my mom was here, for sure. But I think now looking back at it, with the platform that I have, I can try to do all I can to help," C.J. said. "Whether that's partnering with the American Cancer Society, an organization that does so much against terrible disease; being able to share my story, my mom's story, my family's story; and just being able to reach out to people who are going through those same things. It's important."