It took a nearly six-hour surgical procedure, but by late Thursday afternoon, Devon Still and his family received one piece of news they had been desperately waiting to hear for months.
The tumor was gone.
On a photo Still posted to his Instagram account late in the day, the lineman reported the cancerous tumor that had sickened his 4-year-old daughter, Leah, had been completely removed by a surgeon at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. The surgeon even was able to clear the area in Leah's right adrenal gland, Still said. According to Still that was the area "where it all started from."
Leah was diagnosed with Stage 4 neuroblastoma June 2, the same weekend Still originally had been given permission to leave Cincinnati Bengals OTAs in order to see Leah perform in a dance recital. After she complained of pain in her hip when he got home, Still took her to the hospital where she was diagnosed. The pediatric cancer left her with a 50-50 chance of survival.
What's next for Leah will be another round of chemotherapy, radiation and stem-cell transplants in an effort to regenerate her bone marrow and stem cells. Still and his family also are awaiting the day when doctors tell them Leah is completely cancer-free.
Along with his 3-0 team, which is off this week before returning to action Week 5 at New England, Still's story has dominated national headlines all season after the team originally cut him before keeping him on the practice squad in part so that he could retain his insurance to pay for Leah's medical bills. Still said her bills could cost $1 million. The league will take care of all of that.
Earlier this month, Still acknowledged that his mind wasn't 100 percent on football during the preseason and training camp. A hamstring injury also sidelined him near the end of the preseason, forcing the Bengals into cutting him when they needed to reach their 53-man roster limit. A day after that, the former second-round draft pick was added to the practice squad. Two weeks ago, he was activated off the practice squad and played in place of injured tackle Brandon Thompson.
Still has five tackles through two games.
Before taking Leah to the hospital Thursday morning, Still posted a video to his Instagram account in which he gave his daughter a pre-surgery pep talk from inside the car. As he sat in the front seat with the camera pointed toward him and the smiling little girl, known by friends and family as the "selfie queen," in the backseat, Still asked a question.
"I'm going to ask you again," Still asked Leah. "I'm ready for today. Are you ready for today?"
As she continues to smile from the backseat, Leah slowly nods.
"You ready to get this cancer up out you?" Still asks.
She smiles and nods once more.
"Let's do it. Fist bump."
They both give a fist bump toward the camera.
A few of Still's teammates offered their support on Twitter:
Prayers for Leah Still this morning !!!
- Carlos Dunlap (@Carlos_Dunlap) September 25, 2014
Still's mission this past month has been to raise funds for pediatric cancer research. The Bengals assisted with those efforts two weeks ago when they started selling his jersey out of their pro shop. All proceeds are going to Cincinnati Children's Hospital. After four days, they raised about $400,000, including a sizable amount from New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton, who purchased 100 jerseys to give to children in the Cincinnati area. Other fundraising efforts are sending money to the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.
On Thursday, a Bengals source told ESPN the team was closing in on selling 10,000 jerseys and having raised $1 million for the Cincinnati Children's Hospital's pediatric cancer research efforts.
Granted permission to leave Cincinnati a day early, Still arrived in Wilmington, Delaware, on Tuesday to help set up a pre-surgery party for Leah that was held at a movie theater Still rented out Wednesday.