When the pink of October is splashed across end zones, social media posts and T-shirts, Terry McLaurin can't help but feel a tug. It's a little stronger this month compared to the other eleven. The pull this month asks him to sit with her memory -- Betty McLaurin's memory -- a little more.
"Breast cancer is very near to my heart. My grandmother on my dad's side passed away from breast cancer," the wide receiver said. "Every time this month comes about, it makes me really think about her even more and the current cancer survivors who are going through it, the ones that are battling it each and every day"
McLaurin is one of many players for the Washington Commanders personally affected by the ravages of a disease that affects 1 in 8 women in the United States. For these men, Breast Cancer Awareness Month isn't just a cause they feel obligated to talk about because they're professional athletes in the spotlight; this month is personal. That connection has motivated them to use their powerful platforms to deliver important information to breast cancer survivors and their loved ones.
If there's one piece of knowledge that all those touched by breast cancer wish they could send a million times marked with a high priority flag, it's the message about the significance of early detection.
"Early detection can be life-saving," long snapper Camaron Cheeseman said. "If you don't find out about it before it gets too severe, it can be too hard to treat."
There's a reason Cheeseman scored in the 92nd percentile of the Dental Admissions Test -- he's a smart guy, and he's right about early detection. According to the American Cancer Society, when breast cancer is detected early, and remains in a localized stage, the 5-year relative survival rate is 99%.
Catching breast cancer early means getting screenings routinely. However, for millions, booking an appointment with a doctor and taking advantage of vital tools like mammograms may seem like a luxury reserved for the privileged.
"The best way to continue to bring awareness to breast cancer is obviously what we're doing [with the Commanders], but also making it available for all women to get routine check-ups no matter their status, no matter their economic background, their race, their anything," McLaurin said.
McLaurin was in elementary school when he learned that his grandmother had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Many of his memories of her come from spring breaks, when he and his sister would make the trip to North Carolina to see her.
"It was a different kind of different kind of love, different kind of nurturing," McLaurin said. "I remember just waking up every morning and breakfast would always be like being cooked. "It's unfortunate now because I feel like I'd appreciate that even more."
McLaurin's grandmother has since passed away, but he believes that she would be proud of the man he grew up to be.
"A man of faith, a man of hard work," McLaurin said. "A lot of things that my dad instilled into me was probably from her. And just to see that I'm grow up as a man and handling my business, I think she'd be really proud of that."
Cam Sims found out about his grandmother's diagnosis going into his senior year of high school. No one in Sims' family knew, but she had been going through treatment for the past two years. After initially beating the disease, the cancer returned, and she passed away shortly after.
The news hit Sims hard, and it still affects him to this day.
"She had eight kids, kind of raised them on her own," Sims said. "So, that's the tough person. Like the toughest woman I knew."
Though early detection awareness and medical resource access are potent weapons, they cannot prevent breast cancer. Until we find a cure, this cancer will indelibly impact lives. Many will see it as perhaps the toughest experience they have ever faced. When that happens, Logan Thomas, whose grandmother, Shirley Thomas, is a breast cancer survivor, preaches the necessity of steady support.
"My support for my grandmother just came from constant communication -- letting her know that I was always on her side, that I was there for her," the Washington tight end said. "I knew there was going to be tough days, but I knew how strong she was, and I was just trying to be strong with her."
It's a strength that can be hard to muster at times, but when it flows with its full fierceness, it is indescribably profound.
"The courage and the fight that you're displaying right now, you can't put into words what it means to your family, your supporters and your loved ones," McLaurin said.