NFL Daughter’s Cancer Fight Raises Money for Research

Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Devon Still is trying to make “lemonade” from a definitely “lemony” situation. He is proudly showing the public the brave battle his 4 yr-old daughter Leah is battling with a pediatric cancer named neuroblastoma.

Leah was diagnosed with Stage 4 neuroblastoma on June 2. Doctors gave her a 50-50 chance of survival.  After 4 rounds of chemotherapy to shrink her tumors, Leah underwent successful surgery Sept. 25th at Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia to remove a tumor from her abdomen. In true football fashion, here is Still giving Leah a pre-surgical pep talk:

The Bengals have been very supportive of the Still family. Although Devon was initially released by the team in the preseason due to injuries, the Bengals re-signed him to the practice squad so that he would have full health insurance to cover Leah’s treatments. He was brought back to the full time roster on Sept. 9th.

The team also announced that proceeds from the sales of Still’s No. 75 jersey, would go to benefit Children’s Hospital in Cincinnati. So far, more than 10,000 jerseys (at $100 a piece) have been sold, raising  more than $1 million.

Although the surgery was considered successful, Leah is not cancer-free. She still has tumor in her bone marrow, and will continue her treatments.

We wish her the best.

What is Neuroblastoma?

40363_1Neuroblastoma is a disease in which cancer cells form in nerve tissue of the adrenal gland, neck, chest, or spinal cord.

Neuroblastoma often begins in the nerve tissue of the adrenal glands. There are two adrenal glands, one on top of each kidney in the back of the upper abdomen. The adrenal glands make important hormones that help control heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, and the way the body reacts to stress. Neuroblastoma may also begin in the abdomen, in the chest, in nerve tissue near the spine in the neck, or in the spinal cord.

Neuroblastoma most often begins during early childhood, usually in children younger than 5 years of age. It is found when the tumor begins to grow and cause signs or symptoms. Sometimes it forms before birth and is found during a fetal ultrasound.

By the time neuroblastoma is diagnosed, the cancer has usually metastasized (spread). Neuroblastoma spreads most often to the lymph nodes, bones, bone marrow, liver, and in infants, skin.

Neuroblastoma is sometimes inherited (passed from the parent to the child). Neuroblastoma that is inherited usually occurs at a younger age than neuroblastoma that is not inherited. In inherited neuroblastoma, more than one tumor may form in the adrenal medulla.

The most common signs and symptoms of neuroblastoma are caused by the tumor pressing on nearby tissues as it grows or by cancer spreading to the bone. These and other signs and symptoms may be caused by neuroblastoma or by other conditions.

  • Lump in the abdomen, neck, or chest.
  • Bulging eyes.
  • Dark circles around the eyes (“black eyes”).
  • Bone pain.
  • Swollen stomach and trouble breathing (in infants).
  • Painless, bluish lumps under the skin (in infants).
  • Weakness or paralysis (loss of ability to move a body part).

Less common signs and symptoms of neuroblastoma include the following:

  • Fever.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Feeling tired.
  • Easy bruising or bleeding.
  • Petechiae (flat, pinpoint spots under the skin caused by bleeding).
  • High blood pressure.
  • Severe watery diarrhea.
  • Jerky muscle movements.
  • Uncontrolled eye movement.

neuroblastoma stagesAfter neuroblastoma has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if cancer has spread from where it started to other parts of the body. The process used to find out the extent or spread of cancer is called staging. The information gathered from the staging process helps determine the stage of the disease. For neuroblastoma, stage is one of the factors used to plan treatment.


Four types of standard treatment are used:

New types of treatment are being tested in clinical trials.


Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

1 Comment

  1. Jordan Bley

    October 30, 2014 at 7:18 pm

    Based on the negative light the NFL has cast over the sports world for the past several months (See: Aaron Hernandez, Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, etc.), it’s refreshing to see a positive trend occurring league wide. Devon Still, who was released by the Cincinnati Bengals during the pre-season, was re-signed to the practice squad in September in order to provide medical insurance for his family.

    Why is this relevant? Still’s 4 year-old daughter, Leah, is battling neuroblastoma. In light of the recent “thug” impression the NFL has given off, many teams around the league have rallied around the young lady. Recently, the New England Patriots cheerleaders wore Devon Still’s #75 jersey in order to raise awareness for little miss Leah.

    What people tend to forget is that, at its core, the NFL is a business. Although non-traditional in nature, players are signed and cut based on roster needs and performance. After his daughter’s diagnosis, Still contemplated stepping away from football for a year to focus on his family. Instead, he returned to the Bengals, only to be informed he wouldn’t make the 53-man squad. However, the Bengals promised to keep him as a member of their practice squad so that he could have the best of both worlds- the benefits of being an NFL player (insurance, etc.) and the time necessary to focus on his daughter and hold her hand in the middle of her battle.

    The treatments for Leah have been estimated to hit 7 figures, a number that is almost incomprehensible. Under his contract, Still has been granted full medical coverage, meaning that 100% of her treatment will be covered. Medicine in itself is a business too. Doctors perform a service (surgery, diagnosis, etc.) for a fee. However, when people cannot pay for the services, the system seems flawed. There is no way that a former practice squad player’s salary would be able to afford the cancer treatment for his daughter had the Bengals not intervened. Maybe, in the world of sports, there are still some good things and people- ideas that live above the cutthroat world of businessmen and billionaires that run the league. Good for you, Bengals. You’ve found a new fan in me.

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