NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — A fan who credits a Jets game with alerting her to what turned out to be breast cancer served as an honorary captain for the Jets’ game against the Pittsburgh Steelers this weekend.
As CBS 2’s Otis Livingston reported, Tina, a mother of three from Staten Island, said she would not be here right now if she hadn’t been watching a New York Jets game two years ago.
On Oct. 17, 2011, Tina and her husband Sal were in bed watching their favorite NFL team playing the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football. At one point, she noticed all the pink being worn by the players — cleats, gloves, towels, mouthpieces — and wondered why. Moments after her husband explained that it was part of the league’s annual campaign for breast cancer awareness, she performed her first self-examination.
“All of a sudden, I decided to give myself a self-exam, and I found a lump,” she said.
Tina was 33 years old at the time, and had no history of cancer in her family. But two weeks later, she received the stunning news — while with her kids at a car wash — that she had triple-negative breast cancer.
“I sat there for like a minute,” she said, getting choked up, “and was trying to think whether I heard right.”
What followed was a year of aggressive chemotherapy and radiation treatments that were, as she put it, “nothing short of horrible.” But nearly two years to the day she first discovered her tumor, Tina is cancer-free.
She is also one of the faces of the NFL’s “A Crucial Catch” campaign, in partnership with the American Cancer Society, which stresses the importance of annual screenings for women over 40. Tina’s story was played in short clips shown last weekend during NFL games across the country. On Sunday, she will serve as an honorary captain for the Jets at their game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“She has been our anchor this year,” said Anna Isaacson, the NFL’s vice president of community affairs. “She’s just an amazing woman who has worked with us to share her story, and been so open to us. We’re so appreciative because you need women like that who are willing to come forward and share their stories as a way to inspire others.”
Shortly after Tina finished her treatments, she sent an email to the Jets, telling them her story and thanking them for wearing pink. She closed the three-paragraph note by saying, “I am here thanks to you.”
The Jets forwarded that email to the NFL offices, and a campaign star was born.
“I am so grateful to be able to do this – to show people my face, and say I’m an everyday person – husband, kids – it happened to me,” Tina said. “It could happen to anybody.”
“My wife is living proof that it works, and my family is together and whole because of it,” added husband Sal.
Tina, Sal and their three boys were guests of the Jets at the game Sunday, and Tina served as honorary captain.
“You appreciate all the little things, and you don’t take anything for granted anymore,” Tina said.
Since 2009, the NFL’s campaign has raised approximately $4.5 million for the American Cancer Society, and the majority of the contributions have come from the sale of breast cancer awareness-identified pink merchandise.
Thursday will mark the two-year anniversary of the Monday Night Football game in which Tina found the malignant lump. She knows it will be a few years before she is in the clear, but no matter what happens, Tina said it is something her kids will be proud of.
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