Over the past week, I have spent a lot of time in doctors' offices and hospitals. And last Thursday, my worst fear became a reality when my son, Noah, was diagnosed with cancer just three days before his 14th birthday. He has rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer that affects skeletal muscles, and in his case those in his face.
At Levine Children's Hospital and Hemby Pediatric Hematology and Oncology Center at Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, references to Keep Pounding are everywhere. It is amazing how prevalent this team mantra has become.
What started as a phrase used by late Carolina Panthers player and coach Sam Mills in an emotional speech about commitment, dedication to teammates, team effort and never giving up prior to the team's playoff game versus the Dallas Cowboys on January 2, 2004, has taken a life of its own.
Today, Keep Pounding is present at Bank of America Stadium on game days. It begins before every game with the beating of a drum. More than 70,000 Panthers fans chant it during the game to rally the team. It is stitched in the collar of every players' jersey as a reminder of what they are playing for.
And as I have found out, it is in the waiting room, halls and examination rooms at Levine Children's Hospital and Hemby Pediatric Hematology and Oncology Center. Keep Pounding has meaning to families and children, children who are fighting for their lives. Keep Pounding encourages cancer patients, survivors and their loved ones to always Keep Pounding to overcome obstacles.
I was fortunate enough to work more than 10 years with Mills, and he is someone who made quite an impression on me that sustains to this day. As a player, Mills was an undersized linebacker who overcame long odds to earn five Pro Bowl selections in 12 NFL seasons – the last three with Carolina, where he made game-changing play after play.
As a coach, Mills showed the same toughness, tenacity and intelligence that made him a successful player. Then in August 2003, he was diagnosed with intestinal cancer. Despite being given just months to live, he refused to give up and kept pounding, continuing to coach while undergoing treatment for almost two years before passing away.
There are many more inspirations like Mills in the Panthers organization. Owner/Founder Jerry Richardson is a cancer survivor. Special teams coordinator Bruce DeHaven was diagnosed with cancer a year ago and coached the entire season. Head coach Ron Rivera lost his brother to cancer last summer. Co-workers have beaten cancer and overcome other illnesses and injuries.
Now, Noah and my family are ready to take on this challenge and are fighting cancer. As Noah said after getting his diagnosis, "Dad, we are just going to have to Keep Pounding."
You can impact the lives of those affected by cancer and other illnesses. Ways you can make a difference include participating in the Keep Pounding Blood Drive or running/walking in the Keep Pounding 5K. The blood drive provides blood for 27 area hospitals, and the 5K raises funds for cancer research and patient support programs for the Levine Cancer Institute at Carolinas Medical Center.
Keep Pounding! Those words resonate even louder and mean more to me now than they did even 12 years ago when they were first spoken.