Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Devon Still and his 5-year-old daughter Leah will be honored during The ESPYS awards show in Los Angeles next month, when they will receive the Jimmy V Perseverance Award for the way they have handled Leah's inspirational fight with cancer.
Leah was diagnosed a year ago Tuesday with Stage 4 neuroblastoma, a rare form of pediatric cancer that originally left her with a 50 percent chance of survival. In late March, Devon Still announced via Instagram that Leah was in remission, although she still had to go through stem cell treatments to help get her immune system back to normal.
"The perseverance that Devon and Leah have shown throughout this unfortunate process is incredibly moving," said Connor Schell, senior vice president of ESPN Films and Original Content and overseer of The ESPYS. "Each day that she fights, her father is by her side, and their love and strength has captivated all of us in the sports world and beyond."
Past Jimmy V Award recipients include former Rutgers linebacker Eric LeGrand, former NBA coach George Karl, wrestler Anthony Robles and, in 2014, famed SportsCenter anchor Stuart Scott. This year's ESPYS will be broadcast live at 8 p.m. ET July 15 on ABC.
Last week, Leah had a setback during her treatments. Devon Still took to Instagram to plead for prayers for his daughter after she was diagnosed with a serious disease he called VOD.
Also known as Hepatic veno-occlusive disease, VOD occurs when tiny veins and other blood vessels inside the liver become blocked. It happens only in people with allogeneic transplants and primarily in those who received either of two types of drugs, busulfan or melphalan, as part of their post-cancer recovery, according to the American Cancer Society.
VOD can be more common in older people who had liver problems before the transplant. It can result in liver failure and death. The disease's reported incidence in children who have undergone stem cell transplantation is between 5 percent and more than 60 percent, according to Medscape.
"They caught it early, so hopefully it gives the doctors a better chance of stopping it from getting aggressive," Still wrote in the Instagram post Friday. "As you can imagine our minds are all over the place but we're going to try and remain positive."
It was one of three inspirational messages he left on the social media site over the weekend. Another photo was of a large tattoo of Leah's smiling face he recently had placed on his back.
On Monday, Still wrote on Instagram that he hopes Leah will be healthy enough to make the trip for the awards show.
He added on Twitter on Monday night that Leah "is doing better" and "making a little progress."
ESPYS executive producer Maura Mandt said the award was given as a way of offering hope to other families who are enduring battles similar to the Stills'.
"This award is a testament to the inspiration Devon and Leah are to all the families who are suffering from similar circumstances," Mandt said. "It is our hope that with this award we can send them more strength as they face this latest challenge."
Leah's story dominated the sports landscape in the fall when the Bengals were joined by other NFL teams in raising funds and awareness for pediatric cancers. In November, the Bengals donated more than $1.2 million to pediatric cancer research initiatives based on a sale of Still's black No. 75 jersey. In April, about two weeks before her fifth birthday, Leah gave the opening coin toss during Temple's spring game. While getting treatments at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, she and her father have gotten close to Temple's coaching staff. Still, a Penn State product, has spent much of his offseason training at Temple and in Philadelphia.
While sticking close to his daughter's side during her recovery, Still hasn't attended the Bengals' offseason workouts. Voluntary organized team activities began Tuesday. As expected, he wasn't there.