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Guest column: For Andruzzi, another Thanksgiving, even more to be grateful for

Posted by David D'Onofrio  November 28, 2013 08:00 AM

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Foxborough, MA - From left Boston Bruins forward Milan Lucic, former New England Patriot Joe Andruzzi, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, actor and comedian Lenny Clarke, and New England Patriots offensive lineman Sebastian Volmer pose for a photo a

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.

image002Being 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.

* * *
Gala 5Tickets for the Sixth Annual New England Celebrities Tackle Cancer Gala, scheduled for Dec. 2 at Gillette Stadium, are available here. For more information on the Joe Andruzzi Foundation and the Gala, visit the JAF blog or www.joeandruzzifoundation.org. To learn more about the Joe Andruzzi Foundation, visit the Foundation’s website, Facebook and Twitter pages.
This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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Dave D'Onofrio follows Boston's pro players away from the field, court or ice, covering their interests and activities in the community and beyond. A Massachusetts native, once his dreams of More »

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