Sunday slant: A personal day for Teddy, Rose

Sunday will have extra meaning for Teddy Bridgewater and his mother Rose Murphy, who beat cancer and refused to let her son quit football while the inspirational woman was fighting her own battle.

Teddy Bridgewater has heard the chants at TCF Bank Stadium. “Teddy! Teddy! Teddy!” So has his mother Rose Murphy.

Seven years prior, however, Teddy wanted to give up football … for a reasonable and personal reason. Rose had been diagnosed with breast cancer, instantaneously changing the priorities for Teddy. He wanted to quit football, but his mother wouldn’t have any of it.

“At one point, he didn’t want to handle it. He wanted to give up football,” Rose said. “Him watching me going through my sickness and the different changes, I put up the best out front.

“I never let you know how I really feel, but he just was strong and he was being courageous and he was like, ‘Mom, we’re going to get through this,’ and I reminded him, yes, we are. He put up his brave face. We just went through it together and at some point he did have a weak moment where he didn’t want to play football and he just wanted to take care of me.”

Sunday’s game against the Detroit Lions is the Minnesota Vikings’ only home game in the month of October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month in the NFL. Rose will be at TCF Bank Stadium to sound the ceremonial Gjallarhorn before the game, representing the survivors and those who lost their battle to breast cancer.

Back in Miami, Rose is a transportation field specialist in the education system, a job she loves, but as a breast cancer survivor herself, her passion is helping families that are going through the sometimes fatal and always emotionally taxing disease.

To this day, when Teddy is back in Miami, Rose brings him to meet with affected families to “share a kind word with them.” This spring, before the NFL draft and in between private workouts for NFL teams interested in the sensationally poised quarterback, he visited one the handful of families Rose was helping counsel.

“(The mother) was on her way out and she looked up and she saw Teddy and she says, ‘Oh, Teddy!’ She was proud of him and (told him) to keep doing what he’s doing,” Rose said. “She hugged him, called him (her children’s) brother. I tell him that it is important that we give back because it’s a gift, the gift of life. What we’ve gone through, you must give back. So every time he comes in town, I say, ‘Come on, Teddy, let’s go.’”

It’s easy to imagine the calming effect Teddy must have of cancer patients and their families, if it’s anything like his cool demeanor on the field. Rose said Teddy has always been that way, but her battle with cancer enforced that inner fortitude during troubling times.

“Watching Teddy and the strength that he had, we drew strength from each other,” Rose said. “We talked about everything, whether we thought it was good or whether we thought it was bad. Whatever it is, we were very open. Watching some of the other kids, a lot of them, it was very rough for them because a lot of parents don’t like to tell them the truth.”

That was the case with one of Teddy’s teammates now, rookie safety Antone Exum. When he was in middle school in 2003, his mother Barbara had breast cancer but never told him at the time because his grandmother had died of cancer shortly before Barbara was diagnosed. A year or two later, after she beat cancer, Barbara informed Antone and his sister Alexis of what she went through.

“She didn’t really have us to lean on or help her out. She just kind of bared the whole pain and suffering herself,” Antone said. “I take my hat off to her. That just shows how strong and courageous she is as a woman.”

Barbara didn’t have to go through chemotherapy or radiation. Fortunately for her, having the breast removed was enough, although she had a scare some time later when she feared it had returned. She had her other breast taken out without doctors even diagnosing the return of cancer, according to Antone, because “she was pretty confident it was building.”

Rose knows from her own experience and helping other families cope with the stress that everyone handles it differently. Some mothers tell their children shortly after diagnosis; others wait.

“Sometimes words can’t even describe watching those kids and their parents telling them. They don’t want to say, ‘I’m leaving here. This is it.’ They want to believe,” Rose said. “One of my young men that I worked with, when his mom was dying and she was in hospice on her dying bed, he did not want to accept it. He was saying, ‘No, Miss Rose, she’s going to get better and you and her are going to come to my games and she’s going to be better.’ I believe what they believe. I would never tell them anything different than what they believe. If they have hope, I have hope with them.”

Hope can be its own therapy, an invisible medicine to calm the worries of the victims and those close to them.

Rose also knows that even a clean bill of health doesn’t end the possibility of cancer returning, and it might not always be in the same spot. Cancer can be a determined, life-long disease, returning in the bones, blood or organs.

“Being a survivor, that’s not something that I dwell on,” Rose said, “but I just count my blessings every day that it hasn’t traveled anywhere else.”

Rose was officially diagnosed during a mammogram in February 2007, but a mix-up in the paperwork, either hers or the hospital’s, caused her to be unaware of the diagnosis until she felt a lump on her breast about four months later. In August 2007, she had surgery, then started chemotherapy and radiation before getting a clean bill of health in the spring of 2008. She continues to take pills to ward off a return and believes she will be off that medication in a couple years.

Of course the experience shook her and Teddy during those years, but Rose wouldn’t let Teddy give up football, just like she won’t let “her families” that are fighting cancer give up. Now Teddy is part of that inspiration.

But first he needed to keep playing football, Rose told him.

“I sat him down and I told him, ‘Look Teddy, you have a gift. God gave you a gift and you have to use it to the best of your ability. You don’t want to worry about me. I’m going to be fine. I’m going to beat this and I’m going to be fine. I need you to go out there. I need you to do what God has given you. It’s going to be OK,’” Rose said. “He was wiping his eyes and he was saying, ‘OK, OK.’ Ever since that moment, he’s been going full force. He uses what I went through – what we’ve gone through – to motivate him, to elevate him. His driving force.”

On Sunday, both of them will be inspirations to others. Teddy will be on the field continuing to show his poise under pressure, a trait that was strengthened as he dealt with his mother’s cancer. Rose will be on the sidelines before the game blowing the Gjallarhorn, but it’s a good bet she will also find women to educate and inspire about the disease she refused to give into, and the disease she refused to let alter Teddy’s path to the NFL.

“I believe him seeing that part of my life and going through that stage with me, he’s always humble and I believe it was an even more humbling experience for him. I believe it touched his life and it changed his life, as well,” Rose said. “He tells people his driving force was watching his mom – if my mom went through this, I know I can do it. There’s nothing I can’t conquer if my mom went through cancer treatment and all the things that’s associated with it. I know that I can do anything.”

QUICK SLANTS


  • In addition to Rose sounding the Gjallarhorn, Barbara Exum will serve as the game’s honorary captain.

  • Four breast cancer survivors from the Minnesota National Guard will present the colors on Sunday. SGT Cassie Mecuk, MSG Brenda Woods, SMSgt Jami Panula and COL Sandy Best are all members of the Guard’s Pink Tank Project, which was developed to raise breast cancer awareness among Minnesota National Guard Soldiers and Airmen and the general public.

  • Select fans that have been impacted by breast cancer will carry a large pink ribbon onto the field for a recognition moment prior to the game.

  • The Vikings will salute SGT Cassie Mecuk during the game’s Soldier Salute, which will take place during the third quarter. Mecuk currently serves as the officer Actions Non Commissioned Officer with the 34th Infantry Division Battalion in Inver Grove Heights. She joined the Minnesota Army National Guard when she was 19 and a year later was diagnosed with breast cancer for the third time. She has raised over $20,000 in the support of the fight against breast cancer as she continues to battle the disease.

  • Coaches, players and officials will wear pink game apparel to raise awareness for the fight. Most of the apparel, along with game balls and a pink game coin, will be auctioned off at NFL Auction with proceeds benefiting the American Cancer Society’s Community Health Advocates implementing Nationwide Grants of Empowerment and Equity program.


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