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Cancer Survivors Embrace NFL Life

Cards host women fighting disease


Breast cancer survivors take the field during Sunday's game.

Anyone who drives behind Elise Peters' car can rightly assume her feelings toward chemotherapy: She "H8's CHM.''

But what people shouldn't assume is she is cynical.

A more fitting description for her - and the other 64 breast cancer survivors who took the field with the Arizona Cardinals cheerleaders during halftime Sunday - is positive.

"Chemo and I did not agree," Peters joked. "I had six rounds of chemotherapy and 33 rounds of radiation."

During halftime, the cheerleaders performed with pink pom-poms and pink lettered jerseys. The 64 women asked to attend by the American Cancer Society unfolded a giant pink ribbon banner to proclaim the Cardinals' support of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

As if the pink attire of the coaches, players and staff didn't express that, already. After the game, all items were auctioned off, with proceeds headed toward American Cancer Society.

Peters attended the game for free through donations by American Cancer Society. The organization and another private donor painted the "RedZone" pink by giving the 64 women and their family tickets to cheer on the Cardinals as they played the New York Giants.

Patti Parker-Phillips and Jodi Shepler sat alongside with Peters during the game, forming an infectious wave of enthusiasm. The trio applauded as the team rushed onto the field, giving a special ovation to defensive tackle Darnell Dockett and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

They couldn't keep their eyes of Fitzgerald's bright pink cleats and gloves.

"I think it's great that they're wearing all pink to support us," said Parker-Phillips, whose shirt brandished the word "Survivor.''

Shepler, a seven-year survivor, appreciated the opportunity.

"It's cool that they are behind us," said Shepler. "We even get to watch the game from the loudest section - the RedZone."

As part of their experience, the women also stood on the field and toke part in pre-game celebrations.

Liz Dodson considered the moment surreal.

"It's almost like you're not there," she said. "My favorite part is to talk to the new people there. You just meet and you're already connected, like there's a big link."

Before Dodson donned her pink wardrobe Sunday morning, she took her last round of medication. Officially cancer free, Dodson socialized with women she considers sisters.

One has less than a year left to live.

"This is a once in a lifetime experience," said Maureen Hanna. Hanna has an aggressive form of breast cancer and complications from radiation made her situation worse.

Last October when doctors described her conditions, she was devastated.

"I was angry" she said. "But once I understood the facts, I was accepting them."

Her two biggest supporters are Dodson and Fitzgerald, whose own mother passed away from breast cancer. Since then, he's actively raised money and supported research.

"He's a dynamic fundraiser," said Hanna. "He encourages more funds for stem-cell research, genetic testing; whatever will improve treatments."

Fitzgerald also promised to donated $1,000 for each reception and $10,000 for each touchdown during October. "A Crucial Catch" raised $8,000 on its first day.

"It's an amazing, genuine thing for him to do," said Parker-Phillips. "He has a long-term commitment to the cause."

But he's not all about  flashy fundraising techniques.

Dodson and Hanna attended last year's Pro Bowl through Fitzgerald's help. Fitzgerald's manager also invited them to his house in Hawaii for dinner.

"There was so much love in that room," said Dodson.

As much as Dodson enjoyed her trip to Hawaii, where she also visited her daughter,  Dodson believes the trip was designed for Hanna.

Hanna, who has no children, is a paradigm for the expression, "You don't have to be blood to be family." Dodson, Hanna and Fitzgerald's relationship is easily recognizable as something familial.

"We've become good friends," she said. She was selected to take pictures during Sunday's game, snapping several action shots of him and the team.

"The biggest thing for her is being connected to Larry," she said. "Everybody is affected by cancer. Everybody in these stands know somebody who's had it and they understand and because of that it's exciting for the Cardinals to do this."

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