Sunday morning we arrived at AT&T Stadium about 8:15am to check-in, pick-up our sideline passes, game tickets, and Jon’s pink shirt. The Dallas Cowboy Alumni Cheerleaders, Komen staff/volunteers, and many breast cancer survivors all arrived at the stadium with us. No matter how many times I’ve been to “Jerry’s World”, I stand in awe of the place. Today was different though. Today, I was actually arriving to watch the Cowboys play. That was a brand new experience for me.
We met up with the other Star Survivors and I found my great friend and fellow survivor, Melissa. And it was a whirlwind of pictures before practice.
Then we learned how to make the breast cancer ribbons. They look amazing on TV, don’t they? They aren’t as easy to make as one would think. It takes a practice or two or maybe three! During this time, I bonded with my alumni cheerleader named Wendy. Her rookie year was 89. It was amazing to talk to her and hear about how many things have changed. She still has a cheerleader’s pep in her step and a gorgeous smile. She was so sweet and just an all around amazing person. I loved getting to know her. This was also when we got to know other survivors and about their fights. It was a healing moment I didn’t even realize I needed.
Lunch seemed like a blur before I was whisked away for another interview session. Not my strong suit, guys. Not at all. But I survived. As I was walking back, I heard my name and turned to see an old high school friend. Darrin Simmons is the special team’s coach for the Cinnocinnati Bengals. He’s a hometown celebrity in a sense. We are proud of him and his accomplishments. We had planned to meet up at the game, but our schedules were pretty crazy and we weren’t sure exactly when that might happened. It was great to see him and introduce him to my husband. We took a picture, and in what seemed like a minute, we were off to another practice.
This time we had to the honor to help spread out the American glad during the National Anthem. We take the American flag and the sacrifices of our military very seriously at our house. We know all too well how important our rights are and what they’ve cost many families before us. This wasn’t as complicated as making a breast cancer ribbon, but it still took a couple tries.
Sometime during this practice, Darrin hunted me down and presented me with the NFL breast cancer lapel pin. I’d managed to hold myself together pretty good until this moment. I felt the tears swell up behind my eyes, and it took all I had not to cry. Not because of a pin either, but because of the reminder of how many people fought for me and prayed for me from my tiny hometown of Elkhart, KS. Darrin’s act of kindness was a reminder of the way we were raised and taught to treat others. That made me smile. You can take us out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of us.
Rachel, from Komen, picked us up in the tunnel and escorted us to the sidelines. Here we would watch as the Cowboys and coaches trickled on to the field. A side note about so many coaches from both teams: We saw them running stairs, sprinting up and down the field, walking the endzones and running the sidelines, and sweating up a storm. Much respect!
The players also have a routine. Everyone has their own style of warming up too. Some are serious and focused, others are singing and swaying to whatever is streaming through their headphones, some visit and others are silent. It was interesting to watch them all. We also took lots and lots of pictures and people asked to take pictures of us. They would tell us why it was important to them. Each story was about a memory or a fight. The warrior’s battle!
As I stood watching the Dallas Cowboys do their thing, three Bengals walked up and asked for me by name. Whoa! What? Hello, guys! These dudes are huge, but they were so sweet and so kind. Each one shook my hand and introduced themselves. They made sure I had good seats to watch the game. That was pretty awesome. Then they went back to their end of the field to finish getting ready for the game. Did their coach, who also happened to be my friend, send them over? Yeah, probably. But they didn’t have to come. I’m not part of their fan base unless the Cowboys are out of the playoffs and they are still playing. There were no cameras on them. There wasn’t anything in it for them. But their kindness and sweetness will forever be a part of my memories of this day. They might have made me swallow some tears too. So touching!
All the Star Survivors present from last year, and the five of us took a picture together. Brandon Carr photobombed us! That was pretty sweet. We also got to take selfies with Rowdy. He’s quite the selfie expert too.
Right before game time, we were escorted to the center star. Our names were announced as Star Survivors and no other than Tony Romo place rose corsages on our wrists. It was so grand and the stadium so massive that I felt like an ant. Another moment when it took all I had to hold back tears. The journey isn’t mine alone. Millions have gone before me and hundreds of thousands have already filled in my footsteps. I felt a bit guilty being down there as I simultaneously felt excited for the celebration of a positive ending in my own journey. Hope for others!
Then off to spread out the flag for the National Anthem. Put that away and we made a mad rush to watch part of the game before lining up for the halftime show. Down in the tunnel, we huddled around a little TV watching the game. This was the hardest part of this experience. I love football. I love to watch the game and to get caught up in the excitement of it all. Down here, I felt a bit disconnected but it was for a good cause, so it was worth it. Plus, I got to meet a fellow HATEr. That sounds bad, but The HATE Project is really a group of every day people doing extraordinary acts of kindness to numb the HATE in this world. I’m a proud HATEr! The HATE Project has raised thousands of dollars for a variety of charities. When we started our own charity, Courage Conquering Cancer, they all have stepped up and raised money so we can give Recovery Tees (mastectomy shirts) to women in-need. It warms my heart!
We waltzed out onto the field at halftime. In what seemed like a blink of an eye, our ribbon was waving and we were running off the field. Just like that and it was another mad dash back upstairs to watch the end of the game. Wow! What an experience!
The rest of the game was all about being a Cowboys fan! Cheering and hollering in the excitement of yet another win! It was a great way to end such an amazing opportunity and adventure.
Thank you to Ford, Susan G. Komen and the Dallas Cowboys!