Vikings players took part Tuesday in the Vikings annual âCrucial Catchâ Luncheon in partnership with the American Cancer Society.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. – Everson Griffen and Case Keenum aren't typically at the receiving end of the football, but the two of them – along with several teammates – took part Tuesday in the Vikings annual "Crucial Catch" Luncheon in partnership with the American Cancer Society.
Griffen and his mother-in-law Rebecca Brandt, a cancer survivor, have not only been regular attendees of the luncheon but also consistent supporters of raising awareness for cancer prevention and detection.
"Her spirit's always up, she's always got a smile on her face," Griffen said. "She's always one to help others, and that's the biggest thing I love about her. She just wants to help, help, help and give, give, give. That's the best thing about her."
Brandt was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer at the age of 35. Her youngest of three daughters, Tiffany (now married to Griffen) was only 2 years old. Brandt opted for aggressive treatment, including a mastectomy and chemotherapy.
"I was smart enough to know that when the first oncologist I saw told me I was going to die, I fired him," Brandt said. "I proceeded to get an oncologist [who] gave me hope. And after research, we decided on a very aggressive treatment. That treatment saved my life."
Five years after her initial diagnosis and removal of the cancer, and after returning to college to pursue a career in health care, Brandt was walking up a flight of stairs and felt short of breath. She immediately went in for a chest x-ray, and a six-centimeter mass of cancer was found to have spread to her lung.
"I thank that radiologist every day for catching my cancer so early," Brandt said. "It was resected, I went through chemotherapy, received tons of support from my family, and I'm here today."
Brandt, now 27 years cancer-free, emphasized that the Crucial Catch program helps to decrease the fear and anxiety surrounding cancer screening and self-exams, and she believes that in itself is extremely significant.
"Not being fearful is the key to early detection, and that saves lives," Brandt said.
She also expressed gratitude to the Vikings and specifically Everson for joining forces with the Crucial Catch campaign and helping to support local patients and survivors. In addition to attending the luncheon, Brandt is looking forward to sharing in the halftime experience of the Vikings-Ravens game on Sunday.
"It is so valuable to see those survivors down on the field, and to see the program that was hosted today," Brandt said. "It allows others [affected by cancer] to realize that there is hope and that people do care."
Brandt and Griffen spent time reconnecting with some returning luncheon guests who have been impacted by breast cancer, along with hearing the stories of those who have defeated or are continuing to receive treatment for various other cancers.
One woman in attendance at the luncheon was Janet Marek, who has battled breast cancer twice and was diagnosed in 2016 with Stage 4 liver cancer. Marek underwent her final chemotherapy treatment in May and continues to undergo maintenance treatments.
Keenum sat at Marek's table during the luncheon and described her as a fighter.
"She's awesome," Keenum said. "We talk about our team being fighters and 'going to battle,' but we have no idea what she goes through on a day-to-day basis and what her family and friends go through. So to see that, I'm inspired. It keeps things in perspective."
Keenum has only called Minnesota "home" since signing with the Vikings as a free agent this spring, but he emphasized the importance of being involved with the community.
"The fans make the sport. We've all seen the atmosphere at U.S. Bank Stadium, and that's the fan. The community is the fans," Keenum said. "Jan was at treatment on Friday, participated in a walk-a-thon on Saturday and was at the game on Sunday. And she's going to be there this Sunday again. Any time I get a chance to give back like this, it's really cool."
In addition to Griffen and Keenum, 15 cancer survivors and patients were able to connect with TE Kyle Rudolph, WR Laquon Treadwell, CB Marcus Sherels and DT Jaleel Johnson. Vikings Legends Chuck Foreman, Dave Osborn, Bob Lurtsema, Mike Morris and Ryan Hoag also were in attendance, in addition to Minnesota Vikings Cheerleaders and Viktor the Viking.
"We're just so fortunate to have such a great partnership between the American Cancer Society and the NFL – their players, their coaches, their teams," said Christi Erickson, ACS Vice President of Distinguished Partners. "The fact that the Vikings do this every year to honor the cancer survivors and show their support is a really special partnership that we really value."
Griffen helped give out autographed memorabilia and Vikings apparel through a drawing, and each guest was surprised with a personalized wooden sign that current and former players then autographed.
"We have the platform to help a lot of people, and that's what we're doing on a daily basis – affecting change and helping people out," Griffen said.
Brandt smiled as her son-in-law called out numbers, celebrated the winners and encouraged energy and excitement from the crowded room.
"I love Everson. He is an awesome man," Brandt said with emotion in her voice. "He's been such a wonderful member of our family … I love his intensity. I love his passion.
"We need more people that are not afraid to do what they do best," Brandt added. "He has grit. I think I have grit. And to me, that means an unending search or fight for what you need, what you believe, what your passion is."
In the nearly 30 years since receiving her diagnosis, Brandt's passion has been raising cancer awareness, supporting current patients and encouraging all to be proactive in early detection practices.
"I have a couple of main points that I think are so important. It is important to be brave. When you think you have something wrong with your body, trust your instincts; go in to see your doctor. It's better to find it early," Brandt said. "[Early detection] saved my life."