The five-year-old daughter of Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Devon Still, who has battled cancer and at times united the NFL over the past year, will receive the 2015 Jimmy V. Perseverance Award at the ESPYS on Wednesday night. Here’s everything you need to know about the courageous little girl, who is now in remission.
1. She Was Originally Given a 50 Percent Chance to Live
On June 2, 2014, Devon Still’s life was changed forever. A little more than a month before his 25th birthday, he was told the four words that no father ever wants to hear: “Your daughter has cancer.”
Leah was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma and given a 50/50 chance at surviving the disease.
“If y’all know me, y’all know this girl is my world,” Devon wrote on his Instagram account. “I know that she is strong and she won’t let anything hold her down without a fight. Thanks everyone for the continued support of my family.”
2. The Bengals Kept Still on the Practice Roster So He Could Keep His Insurance
Still, a second-round draft pick by Cincinnati in 2012, couldn’t focus on football after his daughter’s diagnosis. He put it simply: “Football stopped crossing my mind.”
The Bengals had no choice but to waive him prior to the 2014 season, but they showed compassion in keeping him on the practice squad. By doing this, Devon not only kept his medical insurance to better take care of Leah’s treatments, but he also had to travel less.
Still was eventually added to the active roster in early September, and with his mind and heart undoubtedly elsewhere for much of the season, he still managed to tally 19 combined tackles in 12 games.
3. The NFL Rallied Around Leah Following Her Diagnosis
Cincinnati’s move to keep Still on the practice squad wasn’t the only show of support from the franchise or even the rest of the league.
The Bengals donated the proceeds from Still’s jersey sales to Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati and pediatric cancer and research, raising $400,000 in a matter of days. New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton bought 100 jerseys and distributed them to children around the Cincinnati area. And in one of the more emotional moments from the season, the New Englandd Patriots cheerleaders donned Still jerseys during a moving tribute on national television.
4. Leah Had Her Tumor Removed in March 2015
A little less than a year into her battle, Leah underwent surgery to remove her tumor, and on March 25, 2015, she was officially cancer-free and in remission. Devon poured out his feelings on his Instagram account:
March 25th, however, is feeling like the best day of my life. Today we received news from Leah’s oncologist that her cancer, stage four neuroblastoma, is officially in REMISSION! After 296 days of day dreaming about what it would feel like to hear the doctors say my daughter is in remission, I finally know the feeling. Funny thing is there is really no way of describing it because I never knew this feeling existed. When I look at my daughter all I can do is smile and hug her. It was not easy but every day, and every treatment Leah fought like hell and kicked cancers butt! I’m so proud and blessed to call her my daughter.
5. She Wasn’t Able to Travel to the ESPYs
Unfortunately, after a stem-cell procedure, Leah had a “serious complication” in May. She is doing better, but as Devon wrote, her “doctors didn’t give her the OK because her immune system is still weak.”
Even without Leah in attendance, don’t expect there to be many dry eyes in the house when Devon takes the stage and accepts the award on his young daughter’s behalf.