Tonight, the Chicago Cubs are on the cusp of history — game seven of the World Series. The pressure could not be more intense, yet there is a joy in the air, a sense of hope, and happy anticipation for some of their most vulnerable fans living with childhood cancer.
Ball player Anthony Rizzo is no stranger to hope. Diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma at age 18, the young ballplayer was successfully treated and eventually found his way to Chicago. Teammate Jon Lester is also a cancer survivor. Their bond is strong (you can read about it HERE or watch a story about it HERE) and captures a side of these Chicago Cubs that many fans don’t see, but that those in the childhood cancer community are well acquainted with.
A frequent visitor at Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, Anthony Rizzo is a symbol of hope and possibility for children and families coping with a childhood cancer diagnosis. He visits frequently, spending time with patients, posing for photos, gifting baseball caps and tickets along the way.
For the families and patients who have come to think of Rizzo as one of their own, his support and recognition means the world to them, as they draw on his example of perseverance, coming out the other side, and defying expectations no matter what comes your way. All important lessons for a child or teen coping with cancer.
A few patients and families treated at Lurie’s for cancer shared their photos and experiences with me. File these under “inspiration” and enjoy. And let’s all hope that tomorrow we’ll be flying that W.
Joe meets Anthony Rizzo
Joe absolutely loves Rizzo. Joe was going through a really tough chemo where he would go weekends at a time with no food … his mouth full of sores and his taste buds shot. When the cereal RizzOs came out we were in the hospital on one of those endless weekends. My mother-in-law got Joe a couple boxes of the cereal and brought it to the hospital, and guess what??? He ate a couple bowls of it!!!
He got to meet Rizzo and Joe asked him, “How did you go through chemo while already in the MLB?” Rizzo told him, “You are great and will overcome. When you feel okay, get out and play ball, when you don’t, rest.” Joe took that to heart and always had that in mind.
What Rizzo did for Joe — giving him words of encouragement — had more of an impact that anything we could have imagined. Joe has stayed positive and always looks up to Rizzo. Flavia, Joe’s mother
Maya and her mom, Rachel, on Anthony Rizzo
I will say it over and over again…Anthony Rizzo is not only a phenomenal ball player, he is an exceptional person. The amount of time, care and financial support he dedicates to children and families with cancer is truly inspiring. Not only have we come into contact with him at Lurie, but he sponsored Maya’s Water Sports camp experience through Children’s Oncology Services this past summer and he has supported events she has been a part of through the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and Gilda’s Club, he is serious about the work he does in the cancer community and it shows.
Seeing him walk into Maya’s hospital room larger than life with that charming smile was not only a diversion from a rough treatment day or two, but he reminded us to stay hopeful. His visits gave us permission in those moments to believe in a future for Maya. There is no greater currency than hope when going through cancer treatment with your child. Anthony Rizzo is living proof that Maya’s dreams are not over just because she had cancer and that those dreams don’t have to be compromised despite the challenges she has faced as a result of treatment. Watching him play ball during the World Series only reaffirms this for us and I can’t help but think that the pure joy and enthusiasm he exudes is even greater because of his perspective on life. He is so fun to watch and we are all huge fans!
He also gave Maya the opportunity to make a great memory with her grandpa when he gave her tickets to a Cubs game during one of those hospital visits. My dad is a lifelong, diehard Cubs fan and he was able to accompany his granddaughters to their very first Cubs game because of that generous gift. That was an experience that will be treasured forever and it came at a time when making memories was at the forefront of all of our minds. I will always be incredibly grateful for that. Rachel, Maya’s mom
Mia and Anthony Rizzo
Anthony Rizzo is not only an incredible sports hero to our family, he is a role model. Great at his craft, yet, even greater as a human being. An inspiration on multiple levels. You can tell where he gets it from when you meet his family. They are kind to no end. Having a child like Mia – fighting cancer – it helps to have motivation, inspiration, and friendship from people like Anthony. You root hard for him on the field and even harder off the field because you know he has been there. Struggled, suffered, and overcame. We love the RIZ. #44 Lisa, Mia’s mother
Jack with his hero, Anthony Rizzo
There is no more awkward time in this world than middle school. To be diagnosed with cancer and in treatment in middle school? Doubly bad. When every other boy is moving on, growing-up and getting stronger, you are stuck in a miasma of ick. 2 years out of treatment, our now 14 year old knows that he is mentally tougher than other kids his age and that grit sets him apart. But he struggles to make up for the time lost to sickness, a time where his peers passed him up and passed him by. He focuses on being stronger and rebuilding his health and his mental game. But for the most part the positives are just theory and he wonders if he will ever get all the way back.
And then you walk through the doors on the oncology floor at Lurie Childrens and Anthony Rizzo is there. The living embodiment of all the good that can come from all the bad. The bigger, the stronger, the faster, the better. For a young teenage boy not sure if he will ever catch up with his peers because he “lost” years to sickness and chemo and hospitals and doctors, Anthony Rizzo is the proof. Proof that maybe it is not all just talk trying to make you feel better. It is proof that you can get there. You can catch-up, you can move ahead, you can be better. You are better.
Anthony Rizzo is a reminder that even with the worst possible odds, you can be the best possible version of you. Your had cancer, it is part of you but it does not define you. It might even help make you better than you ever thought you could be. Ann, mother to two sons with childhood cancer
Kyler and Anthony Rizzo
I recently thought that if Kyler had survived cancer he would grow up to be someone like Anthony Rizzo. Kind, compassionate, caring, and for the cause of helping other kids with cancer, on top of being a great athlete. It made me smile. Thanks be to Rizzo. Rebecca, Kyler’s mother
If you would like to support the good work of the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation, click HERE.