HOUSTON -- Devon Still visited the Texas Children's Hospital on Tuesday, not just as a defensive end for the Houston Texans, but also as a father who knew all too well what the kids with cancer and their parents were going through.
Still’s daughter, Leah, fought cancer after being diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma in 2014 at age four. She became cancer-free in March, but still had more treatments to undergo. In January, Still announced that Leah was officially done with treatment and had beaten cancer.
Still said it is important for him to make these visits, because he wants to show parents that they have support when they need it.
"[I’m] just letting them know, I know what it’s like to be in those shoes," Still said. "Me and my family, we made it out of here, so it’s definitely possible. And I think that’s big for any family to see when they’re going through this battle."
Still and his wife Asha went room to room, learning about the different types of cancer these young children were facing. Still offered encouragement, personal stories and the promise that he was only a phone call away if there was anything else he could do.
Jakob Bustamante, who was diagnosed with Leukemia last year and had a bone marrow transplant, sat in his bed talking to Still. They talked about home, family and cancer. And when Still asked Jakob what sports he plays, and he listed basketball and soccer and said, "I wanted to play football next year, but ..."
"What’s the 'but?'" Still asked. "There’s no 'but'. You beat this, and you can get back on the football field."
Still told Jakob of Kansas City Chiefs safety Eric Berry, who missed time during the 2014 season after being diagnosed with lymphoma, but beat cancer and has returned to the field. Berry has played in every Chiefs game since his return.
"You have more motivation than anyone on this field, because you already beat a battle," Still said. "Football will be easy after that.
"Let’s try to cut these 'buts' out. I’m looking forward to seeing you on the football field. The Houston Texans are rooting for you."
With that, Still and Jakob followed each other on Instagram, with the promise of Jakob attending a Texans game as soon as he gets better and gets out of the hospital.
Still ended his visit to the hospital by reading the book he wrote with his daughter Leah, called "I am Leah Strong," which takes families through the cancer diagnosis and treatment, and what to expect on the journey to beating cancer.
"We wanted to make a big impact on the childhood cancer community," Still said. "And we felt as though when we were going through our battle, there wasn’t a handbook out there that said, 'this is how you have to handle this situation, this is how you explain it to your kid.' So we just took what we did with our experience and we put it into a book, so that hopefully families are able to read this book and understand the process of what they’re going to go through, and give them tips on how to handle it."
Many times throughout his visit, Still told the children that he thought they were the strongest people he knows with everything they are going through. He said he hopes that during September, which is childhood cancer awareness month, he and the Texans can make an even bigger push to help.
"That’s one of the reasons I decided to go public with my daughter’s story," Still said. "Although I understood what childhood cancer was, I didn’t really understand what families went through. And just having a platform of being an NFL player, I thought I was able to give people an inside look about what it’s like for a family to deal with this disease, so people are willing to step up and help out these families more."