Marcus Sherels, Anthony Barr, Brandon Fusco were among the players who held the annual Vikings Breast Cancer Awareness Luncheon.
Karen Booth grew up watching the Vikings. Cheering for them now is even more meaningful, however, because she has a friend on the team.
Karen first met Marcus Sherels when she attended the annual "A Crucial Catch" luncheon hosted by the Vikings and the American Cancer Society two years ago. She and her sister, Lyn, were seated at a table with Sherels and Brandon Fusco, and the players listened to her story.
"We just had a special bond with Marcus," said Karen, who sat with Sherels again at this year's luncheon. "He's just a really genuine, nice guy that I enjoyed hanging out with."
The sisters drove down to Rochester this past summer to support Sherels' fundraiser, and there they received pink "MS35" shirts to back their favorite Viking.
Sherels, who has attended the luncheon every year he's been with the Vikings, said he was surprised and appreciative when Karen and Lyn came to Rochester.
"Just to hear their stories and hear how strong Karen has been, it's amazing," Sherels said. "Karen and Lyn are lifelong friends now."
They reunited Tuesday when the Vikings hosted the luncheon for survivors and caregivers – and in memoriam of loved ones.
Karen was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2012. After undergoing chemotherapy, radiation and surgery, she's now a proud survivor that continues to support the ACS in any way possible. Karen said the ACS directly helped fund at least two medications she required.
"The Crucial Catch program has been incredible for the American Cancer Society," said David Benson, Executive Vice President of the Midwest Division for the ACS. "It's amplified our ability to reach women with messages about prevention and early detection and of course messages of hope for anyone going through a cancer diagnosis.
"These players are amazing," Benson continued. "They really do inspire these women to keep fighting, and we just can't thank them enough for being with us year after year and showing their support for our cause and the survivors who come."
Sherels plans to continue supporting Karen by joining her team for the "Making Strides Against Breast Cancer" walk on Oct. 15.
"They're definitely our heroes," Sherels said of Karen and other survivors. "Just the strength they have and the influence they have on everyone – to survive something like this is incredible."
But Karen doesn't view herself as a hero.
"When you get diagnosed with cancer, you don't have an option. You either fight the cancer, or it gets to you. And sometimes it gets to you anyway," Karen said. "So it's not that we're braver or stronger; it's just that we're lucky enough to have successful treatment."
After defeating cancer, Karen said that Sherels inspired her to become more active and an overall healthier person. To hear that Sherels and his teammates at the luncheon admire her is humbling.
"The Vikings have been part of my life since I was little," Karen said with a smile. "So I love hearing that they're inspired by me."
Fusco, Anthony Barr and Isame Faciane have also been moved by hearing the survivors' stories through attending the luncheon.
Barr first attended the event as a second-year linebacker in 2015. He was struck by the courage of the women he met and knew he wanted to be present again this year.
"You look at these women, and it's just like, 'How did they find a way?' They leaned on someone, they leaned on something every day – something inspired them to battle this terrible disease," Barr said. "To see them standing tall today is just a testament to their [will] and hard work."
Although Fusco isn't directly connected to anyone affected by breast cancer, he's attended the luncheon with Sherels every year since joining the Vikings in 2011 and said it's important to him.
"I enjoy coming here and hearing the stories these women have," Fusco said. "I've learned so much over the years about this disease and how [difficult] it is and what it takes to survive it.
"It's awesome to meet new people, and I like helping out the community," he added. "There's a place in my heart where I feel like I need to do that, and I enjoy putting a smile on people's faces. It's heartwarming."