As a cancer survivor, an advocate for those waging their own battles with the disease, a three-time Super Bowl champion, and even more recently as one of the civilian heroes who sprung to action in the immediate aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, former Patriots lineman Joe Andruzzi has a unique perspective on why it's important to be appreciative on Thanksgiving. As he prepares to host his foundation's annual New England Celebrities Tackle Cancer Gala next week at Gillette Stadium, we asked him to share that perspective, as he did last year.
By Joe Andruzzi
Thanksgiving is here again, bringing together so many things I love: good food, gathering with family and friends, football… and the opportunity to once again reflect on everything I’m grateful for.
I have been cancer-free for six years now, and the Joe Andruzzi Foundation has spent those years helping patients and families struggling with cancer. With every year, I’m more appreciative I’m still here, and that my wife Jen and I get to do this work.
I’ve been here to watch my kids grow. And I’ve also watched our foundation grow from a simple idea sparked by our own experience to a nonprofit raising hundreds of thousands of dollars to help alleviate cancer’s financial burden on patients. It’s been quite a ride.
Being diagnosed with cancer in 2007 taught me a lot. In an instant, I learned first-hand how unpredictable life can be, that you never know what’s around the corner. One minute, I was a professional football player with the Cleveland Browns, coming off three Super Bowl wins with the New England Patriots. The next, I was listening to my doctor tell me I had a very aggressive form of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma – and a tumor expected to double in 24-hours. And just like that, Jen and I were headed back to Boston for treatment at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, our four kids (now five) in tow.
It was a life-changing event for our family, but it created a new mission: helping patients and families fight cancer, financially and emotionally.
This year’s Boston Marathon was another poignant reminder that tragedy can strike when we least expect it.
That day, our foundation set out to do two things: cheer on Team JAF’s 21 marathon runners, and to raise crucial funds for cancer patients and their families through a Marathon Monday Fundraiser at Forum Restaurant on Boylston.
When the blasts went off, Jen and I were at the finish line greeting one of our charity runners. Realizing the second bomb went off directly where our event was, and not knowing the status of all of the people at Forum, is an indescribable feeling that many of us will never fully shake. In one second, the day went from joyful to horrific.
We once again found ourselves drawing on the lessons cancer taught us – that we must pull together, help each other and treasure our time together. That we must remain positive and upbeat, even in the darkest times. Especially in the darkest times.
We focused on the heroism of our city that day – the first responders who rushed towards chaos to save lives, the medical staff that tended the wounded, and the regular folks who opened their homes to shell-shocked runners and spectators. And we celebrated our Team JAF runners – and all of the 117th Boston Marathon participants – by returning to Boylston Street a few weeks later, to finish the race.
Next April, we’ll be back at Forum, cheering on Team JAF, as it tackles the 118th Boston Marathon. We want to finish what we started. We’re thankful for that opportunity.
We know our work matters, and it strengthens our resolve to move forward.
This year, our foundation helped more patients and families than ever, bringing the total number we’ve assisted since 2008 to more than 1,000. In that same time, we’ve donated more than $400,000 to fund pediatric brain cancer research at Boston Children’s Hospital, in honor of a young friend claimed by cancer, C.J. Buckley.
We have also expanded last year’s successful Touchdowns by Tom campaign into Points for Patients, partnering once again with National Grid, which is donating $500 for every touchdown scored by the Patriots this season. It’s also matching public donations to the campaign, dollar-for-dollar up to $75,000.
I always cheer for my former team, but it’s been especially awesome watching this season, knowing each touchdown helps cancer patients and families. Our program also sends cancer patients to games. Last month, I was honored to sit alongside 16-year-old Devin Depauw of Hanover Woods, as he and his best friend forgot cancer in the excitement of a cliff-hanging Pats vs. Saints game.
When it comes down to it, those are the types of moments we’re most grateful for.
Next Monday (Dec. 2), after all the turkey and pie settles, our community will come together once again at Gillette Stadium for our annual New England Celebrities Tackle Cancer Gala. Last year’s benefit generated an incredible $500,000, and this year, we’re aiming to raise even more.
I’m still in awe of how far we’ve come in six years, and humbled by our collective power to help others – we’re incredibly grateful to all those who have joined us on this journey.
And I’m looking forward to many more happy Thanksgivings to come, for both my own family and those we serve.
About a year ago, a few members of the Patriots took on some of the Giants in Halo 4 -- the latest edition of the incredibly popular, interstellar war video game. New England lost that battle last November. And now the Pats are turning on themselves.
At Royale Boston on Dec. 11, tight end Rob Gronkowski and quarterback Ryan Mallett will go head to head, each leading a team of gamers in the finals of the Celebrity Gaming Challenge -- the proceeds from which will benefit the Gronk Nation Foundation and the Miller McNeil Woodruff Foundation.
The tournament actually begins a few days earlier, with preliminary rounds at the Microsoft stores in Salem, N.H. (Dec. 6), Natick (Dec. 7) and Boston's Prudential Center (Dec. 8). Contestants will play as singles at that point, proceeding through a round-robin elimination tournament that will eventually whittle the field down to two winners from each of those locations, then those players will advance to the finals, where they'll be drafted onto the teams led by Gronkowski and Mallett.
To register for the competition, go here, or if you just want to watch the competition and see for yourself whether Gronkowski or Mallett is the superior Xbox athlete, go here to buy tickets to the finals for $20 apiece. Winners of the tournament will each receive a new Xbox One system of their own, while helping to raise money for the Patriots' causes. The Gronk Nation Foundation strives to empower kids in order to help them maximize their potential, while the Miller McNeil Woodruff Foundation aims to raise awareness, fund research, and offer support to families facing the challenge of Spinal Muscular Atrophy.
Both are certainly worthy missions. And you never know what Gronk might do at one of these events. Especially in the heat of competition.
'Tis the season to try and find unique and meaningful gifts for those special people in your life -- and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and David Ortiz both might be able to help you with that as they help others.
The recently minted World Series MVP will host his sixth annual David Ortiz Celebrity Golf Classic next month, and from now through Dec. 14 his foundation will hold an online auction to support its mission to provide pediatric health care in the Boston area in his native Dominican Republic.
There are nearly 70 items up for bid, including a hitting lesson from Ortiz himself, a round of golf with Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor, a chance to have former Yankee Bernie Williams coach your child's Little League game, dinner with comedian Lenny Clarke at Strega Waterfront, as well as meet and greets with a variety of big leaguers and several once-in-a-lifetime opportunities at Fenway Park.
Dana-Farber and the Jimmy Fund, meanwhile, will be marking "Giving Tuesday" -- which follows Black Friday and Cyber Monday on the calendar -- by selling a holiday collection of original cards, candles, ornaments, and jewelry to benefit adult and pediatric care and cancer research at DFCI.
The highlight may be the cards designed by local artists and Dana-Farber patients, while sports fans might be most interested in the Red Sox- and Patriots-themed candles and ornaments -- including one handcrafted keepsake that commemorates the Sox' 2013 World Series championship.
After the holidays, Sox players will personally help with the fundraising when some of them participate in the annual "New Stars for Young Stars" party, where they'll be signing autographs among the festivities at Jillian's Boston. Come to think of it, tickets for that might make a good gift, too. Tickets for that event go on sale Monday.