CHARLOTTE – On Sunday, the Carolina Panthers and Atrium Health Levine Cancer will honor breast cancer patients and survivors who are serving as the game's honorary Crucial Catch coin toss captains. Together, they will honor those who have lost their battle to cancer, those who are in the fight as well as celebrate those who are survivors of the disease.
The captains' nameplates will read Joyful, Thankful, Faith, Hope, Resilient and Determined to recognize both the courage and resolve that is a hallmark of those battling the disease, as well as recognizing the love and care provided by family and medical support systems so vital to patients.
The Carolina Panthers would like to thank Atrium Health for selecting Sunday's captains:
Word Explanation: The word joyful was so important to me in my journey because joyfulness is a choice. My diagnosis was hard and even in that circumstance, I chose joy. I surrendered my care to my amazing team of doctors, Dr. Antoinette Tan, Dr. Jimmy Hwang and Dr. Malcolm Squires. I wasn't skilled to understand how to navigate two huge cancers at one time. I had complete faith in my team. I woke each day and said today I will be joyful. I will intentionally choose to shift my focus to positivity. I have three amazing daughters who went with me to every appointment. Together we would look for people to make smile. We looked outward and chose to be joyful. I knew our team of doctors and God had the heavy lifting. We were going to find the purpose in each day. As of now, I have a clear PET scan.
Bio: Rebekah first moved to Charlotte, NC from California in 2001 for her husband Chris Saunders, who at the time was a third baseman for the Charlotte Knights. They had just had their first daughter Morgan. Their family fell in love with the area, bought their first house and never went back to California except to visit. Chris retired from baseball in 2003 after their second daughter, Emily, was born. Emily was born on Valentine's Day with a heart defect. She had excellent care through Atrium Health Sanger Heart and Vascular clinic and is still doing fantastic. A year later they had their third daughter, Katelyn.
Their family then moved to Waxhaw, NC and have loved the area and enjoy their country life. Rebekah took up quilting and joined a featherweight sewing group. In 2018, she was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer, went through treatment, and it was gone. In September of 2022, their first born, Morgan, got married and two weeks later Rebekah called her doctors at Atrium Health Levine Cancer regarding a swollen lymph node under her arm. They brought her in the next day for scans, a biopsy, and PET scan. Her breast cancer was back, and it had spread to her hip making it stage 4. In addition, she also had stage 3 colon cancer. Her amazing daughters supported her, and they began a 7-month journey. Her girls went to every appointment, radiation treatment, chemotherapy, scans. When only one was allowed due to Covid they would sit in the halls. They then added two more amazing doctors to our team on the colon side, Dr. Hwang and Dr Squires. "I'm happy to say I have clear scans and the cancer is gone," said Saunders. Both her breast and colon cancer are gone. "Through much prayer, faith and exceptional doctors I feel like I got a miracle," she said.
Word Explanation: I chose Thankful as I could not have gotten through this without my parents, wife, and family. I have a fantastic family. This diagnosis changed my everyday life, and my daily routine stopped. I am so thankful that I had the sense to get the lump checked out and to have had my wife by my side. She was my pilot throughout this journey, and I am so thankful for her and my family.
Bio: Maurice Floyd is a 58-year-old male diagnosed with breast cancer before Thanksgiving last year after finding a lump on his chest. He credits Atrium Health Levine Cancer for his tremendous care from start to finish. Dr. Arielle Heeke and Dr. Lejla Hadzikadic Gusic helped Maurice through this journey by diagnosing his cancer as soon as possible and starting his treatments less than a month after finding the lump. The cancer diagnosis changed his everyday routine, but faith played a lot in his outlook on how he would overcome this obstacle. Maurice's wife and daughter have been with him every step of the way, and he cannot thank them enough for being by his side. Maurice recently finished radiation two weeks ago and is continuing to go through the healing process. Keeping faith and the will to fight this all the way.
Word Explanation: I chose Faith for my nameplate because at certain times, my faith in God was the only thing that kept me going.
Bio: Crystal Meadows was first diagnosed with triple-negative invasive breast cancer in early 2020, after noticing a lump during a self-breast exam. Throughout 2020 she had to complete a combination of approximately 30 radiation treatments and chemotherapy for 6 months. During this time she was surrounded by her three daughters who helped her stay stronger than ever. Sadly, in late 2022, she was told her cancer had metastasized to her lungs, she is currently continuing chemotherapy to prevent further spreading. Crystal has remained upbeat despite her ongoing battle, she loves spending time with her children, interior decorating, gardening, camping, or really anything outdoorsy. If you can't find Crystal, you can check the plant section in any store and chances are she's around there somewhere! Crystal encourages anyone who is struggling to have faith in God, that he has you right where you need to be, and to live your life for the memories built with the ones you love!
Word Explanation: When I heard the words, "you have breast cancer," it felt like my world had turned upside down, and in that moment, all I clung to was "HOPE." Amidst the fear and uncertainty, hope was my anchor. It was the unwavering belief that I could navigate this challenging journey, that better days lay ahead, and that I had the inner strength to overcome. "HOPE" became not just a word but a lifeline, a source of courage that carried me through the darkest of times, reminding me that even in the face of adversity, there was a path forward toward healing and recovery.
Bio: Meet Phaedra Pistone, a remarkable woman whose resilience and determination have defined her journey. Phaedra is not just a breast cancer survivor; she's a two-time conqueror of this challenging journey. Celebrating four years cancer-free for the second time, she's living proof that hope and early detection can triumph over adversity.
Phaedra is not content with simply winning her own battles; she's dedicated to helping others do the same. As a passionate advocate for early detection, she uses her social media presence to spread the critical message: 'Check your 2 on the 2nd of each month,' a call to action that could save lives.
But her impact doesn't stop there. Phaedra founded 'Healing with HOPE boxes,' an initiative designed to provide support and comfort to others navigating the turbulent waters of breast cancer. Her compassion and generosity shine through this project, offering a lifeline to those in need.
Beyond her advocacy work, Phaedra is a business owner, a devoted wife, and a loving fur baby mom. In 2023, she added another impressive title to her resume, becoming Mrs. South Carolina International, a testament to her grace, poise, and dedication to making a positive impact.
Phaedra Pistone's story is one of resilience, compassion, and empowerment. She is a beacon of hope for all those facing adversity, reminding us that even in the face of life's greatest challenges, we can find strength, purpose, and the power to inspire others.
Word Explanation: "A word I would say is resilient. Nothing brings you down more than getting this news. There are so many tests, surgeries, chemo and radiation but we all seem to manage to find the strength and bounce back. Being resilient is what has gotten me through this for my kids and my family."
Bio: Kristi Rowley is a mom of three diagnosed with stage II breast cancer in April of this year. As a very healthy and active 40-year-old, she took all the correct steps for preventative care like she was supposed to, even scheduling her first mammogram a week after her 40th birthday. Despite doing self-exams and scheduling her annual OB appointment, her life was changed forever when she was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer and learned that it had taken over most of her right breast.
She cannot imagine going through this without the amazing care from everyone at Atrium Health and Levine Cancer Institute. "None of this is fun, but I find myself leaving all my appointments laughing and smiling because of the amazing staff that truly cares," says Kristi. "I've learned that cancer doesn't discriminate by age or race or that fact that you are a mom with young children to care for. But it's up to you what you make of it from there. I will say cancer has taught me so much. I care more and worry less. I enjoy every day for all its little imperfections. I have met some of the most amazing, strong, and inspiring women throughout this process that I will now know for life, and I am so thankful for the community I have been welcomed into."
Her goal going forward is to raise awareness. 1 out of 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and when caught early, there is much they can do.
Word Explanation: "The word I selected for my nameplate is determined, as I continued to have the determination to do all that I could to beat breast cancer"
Bio: Melissa McGuire is a 27-year survivor of breast cancer detected during her first, baseline mammogram. Determined to do everything possible to beat it, Melissa entered a trial at Carolinas HealthCare System (now Atrium Health Levine Cancer) with standard chemotherapy drugs but in higher doses and frequency, to help determine what plan provided the best results. Blessed beyond measure, Melissa and her husband Mike are both active in Charlotte's business and civic communities. In their free time they enjoy travel, food, wine, jazz and sports, including being original Panthers PSL owners.
In honor of the NFL's Crucial Catch initiative, the Panthers welcomed local breast cancer survivors after Saturday's practice before their Week 4 matchup with the Minnesota Vikings.