Former Patriots offensive lineman Joe Andruzzi will host the fifth annual New England Celebrities Tackle Cancer Gala at Gillette Stadium on Dec. 3 -- when he will himself be celebrating five years of living cancer-free. With Thanksgiving upon us, we asked the three-time Super Bowl champ to reflect on that anniversary and the experiences of his journey.
By Joe Andruzzi
Thanksgiving is undoubtedly one of my favorite holidays. The turkey, the mashed potatoes, the pie – and football! What’s not to love?
But I also truly appreciate the opportunity to step back each year and reflect on everything I’m thankful for. Number one: I’m still here.
In May of 2007, I was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, expected to double within 24 hours. It was a life-altering event that set my course for the future. While it spelled the end of my football career, it also signaled the beginning of another profound chapter in my life, and the launch of my nonprofit, the Joe Andruzzi Foundation.
I was playing for the Cleveland Browns, having signed on as a free agent after leaving the Patriots with three Super Bowl victories. I was a successful offensive guard with four young children, at the top of my game. But with a single shocking sentence from my doctor, everything had changed. You have cancer. My wife Jen and I packed for Boston as quickly as we could, so that I could immediately begin treatment at two of the country’s best cancer centers: Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
I was in and out of the hospital all summer, undergoing chemo for five to ten days straight. I spent a lot of time lying up in the hospital, getting poked by needles, getting spinal taps, and experiencing a level of sickness a guy like me had never known.
But I came through it, and in just a few months I was well enough to permanently go home, where I was focused on my recovery for about a year. I couldn’t have done it without my wife, who was at my bedside every day, even as she managed to run our household and care for our kids.
Which brings me to the second thing I’m thankful for: my wife and family. See, Jen is an impressive woman. Because even as she was caring for me, she was already plotting how we could help others with cancer. We were already active in the cause, having established a fund for pediatric brain cancer research at Boston Children’s Hospital in memory of a young friend who passed away, C.J. Buckley. I had spent years visiting cancer patients during my time with the Patriots. So as I healed, we started our Foundation. And when our fifth child was born a few years later, we were proud to name him after C.J.
We were critically aware of our good fortune (another thing for which I’m infinitely grateful) – financially, cancer did not derail my family. But so many families need both parents working, and when one has cancer, they lose half their income. Or one loses their income while caring for a child. Chemo protocols generally last for a year or two.
That’s a long time to scrape by. Jen and I knew we wanted to ease some of the burden, by assisting families with crucial rent or mortgage payments, or making sure the lights stayed on. We also wanted to continue our support for pediatric brain cancer research at Boston Children’s Hospital.
This is a big year for us – a big Thanksgiving: I am celebrating five years of living cancer-free. And our Foundation is celebrating five years of hard work and success. We’ve now assisted more than 400 families with household expenses during cancer treatment, and we’ve donated more than $300,000 to the cutting-edge research of Dr. Mark Kieran at Children’s. Every year, we’ve more than doubled our giving and added more sponsors and partners. Every day, I give thanks for the opportunity to help our beneficiaries, and I remain so grateful to all those who help us realize our mission.
We’re on a roll and we just want to keep moving, raising as much money as we can to help as many families as possible.
I’m also grateful that we can mark the fifth anniversary of our New England Celebrities Tackle Cancer Gala. On Dec. 3, we’ll come together with all of our supporters for our signature fundraising event at Gillette Stadium. It’s the first time we’ve held the event at the Patriots home field. The stadium is full of good memories for me, and I’m looking forward to bringing together all my friends – old and new – to raise money for cancer patients and their families. We hope you’ll join us as well.
This Thanksgiving, as I gather with Jen, my five kids, and our family to watch my old teammates take on the Jets (and feast on our families’ favorites), I’ll be celebrating life and all that it brings - family, good friends, and the humbling opportunity to help those in need, at a time when they need it most. I wish the same good fortune to everyone.
Emceed by Scott Zolak, the Gala will feature a special symposium, cocktail hour, dinner, and speaking program, along with live and silent auctions offering sports memorabilia, Boston sports tickets, and luxury dining, spa, entertainment, and travel packages.
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