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'New best day ever': Cancer survivor Josiah Desper and family cherish a special outing at FedExField

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All of Saturday, Josiah Desper couldn't stop asking his mom Shauvane questions.

"Oh, he was bothering me," Shauvane Desper said with a laugh. "He's like, 'Mom, what am I going to wear?', 'Are you sure I'm going to meet Chase Young?' 'Am I going to meet all of them of them?'"

The questions flowed from the enthusiasm and anticipation for the night ahead. The 11-year-old football lover, who recently finished his maintenance treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), and his family would soon be heading to FedExField for the Commanders open practice. On a night that was all about making memories, piling on the love and celebrating wins, Josiah enjoyed an outing to remember with highlights that included a welcome into the locker room by coach Ron Rivera, the gifting of a custom jersey, time spent hanging out with his favorite players and more.

It was not long ago that an experience like Saturday night seemed a distant reality for the Desper family.

"When he first started, it was really sad. I didn't know if he was going to make it or not," his now-15-year-old cousin Nemari said. "I didn't get to go see him a lot, but every time I did get to see him, I gave him a hug and gave him an encouraging note and a drawing."

The support from loved ones helped ease the difficulty of a road that has been dotted with hurdles since Josiah's diagnosis at five years old.

"He's been through a lot. It's been a long journey," Shauvane Desper said. "When he was first diagnosed, we didn't see a light. You go through thing after thing, and you're like 'it has to get better.'"

On Saturday, Aug. 6, the Commanders welcomed Josiah Desper, an 11-year-old football lover who recently finished his maintenance treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and his family for a once-in-a-lifetime experience at FedExField. On the night of the team's open practice, Josiah was invited into the locker room by Coach Rivera, met his favorite players, received a personalized jersey, ran drills on the field and more.

The journey full of uncertainty has come with an appreciation for every little moment where light does flash through. When the Despers got word of the open practice invite -- in the form of a personal video from Josiah favorite player, Chase Young -- they knew right away how much joy this might bring their son.

"He just lit up when he saw the video," his dad Doug Desper recalled. "He was so excited."

The invitation from Young provided a hint of what was to come on Saturday. Josiah's night at FedExField kicked off with a visit in the locker room where Coach Rivera introduced Josiah to the team, and Young himself put a personalized #99 jersey over Josiah's head. The soon-to-be sixth grader, who his parents describe as mostly a shy kid, had little trouble warming up around the star.

"To see him come out of his comfort zone and hang out with Chase is just amazing," Shauvane Desper said.

Once he officially looked the part, Josiah headed on to the field where he worked on his skills during a few drills with the defensive line and spent time with a familiar face.

"Chase went to introduce me to Ryan [Kerrigan] and he goes 'Oh we go way back." Josiah said.

The two had met a charity golf tournament in 2019. He loved that Kerrigan remembered him and the interaction made him feel even more at home with the players. When the clock wound down and the session concluded, Josiah went right into the team huddle to break down the end of practice. After, he ran around to other Commanders, getting autographs, taking pictures and even receiving a pair of signed and practice-worn gloves directly from Terry McLaurin.

The image of Josiah with a smile stuck to his face for hours, basking in the glow of a night he now dubs his "new best day ever," is one the Despers will not soon forget.

"There's a lot of things that Josiah couldn't experience going through cancer so having this type of event is definitely a blessing," Doug Desper said. "I know that he will always cherish this."

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