It turned out that Thursday became a significant day in the battle against cancer with the Bengals as a backdrop.
As four-year-old Leah Still recovered from a surgery that took nearly six hours at Philadelphia Children's Hospital, Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis' foundation honored breast cancer survivor Jill Conley at the Marvin Lewis Community Fund's 11th annual Pure Romance Football 101 event at Paul Brown Stadium.
Leah's Dad, Bengals defensive tackle Devon Still, delivered the good news via Instagram Thursday afternoon:
"After a 5hr 50min surgery the surgeon was able to remove ALL of her tumor and all of her lymph nodes and her right adrenal gland where it all started from...best news I've received in a long time #PrayForLeah #GodIsGood #ThanksForYourSupport"
Leah has been battling Stage 4 cancer from spreading via a Neuroblastoma tumor in her abdomen since she was diagnosed in June. As sales of Still's No. 75 jersey at the Bengals Pro Shop neared 10,000 at $100 per jersey with proceeds going to Cincinnati Children's Hospital & Pediatric Cancer Care, light flashed through the long tunnel.
"Great news, great news,' said Lewis, who saw it like everyone else on social media. "It's quite a day. And you've got someone like Jill Conley who has unbelievable story and is reaching out to help others."
Conley, 37, took home the MLCF Pink Football back to Louisville, Ky., for her tireless work at the foundation she created, Jill's Wish, complete with a slick website at jillswish.org.
"The mission…is to help minimize the financial worries associated with cancer in order to focus on recovery," the site says. " We are committed to providing relief from the burden of additional unexpected expenses and the infinite stress associated with "battling the beast". Our goal is to provide resources, with even the smallest concern in order to ease the anxiety that quickly surfaces after diagnosis."
Conley left the PBS party early because she had to get home for Friday's golf tournament, a major fundraiser of her own. Football 101 continues to take on a life of its own here as one of MLCF's major fundraisers for the core programs of college scholarships and Learning is Cool school initiative. With a sold-out crowd of 450, about $200,000 was expected to be raised.
As usual, Lewis's coaches turned out to support him with most of his staff donating their bye week Thursday night to him. Half of them worked with the women on the field and the other half were in the classrooms working on game plans. Food, drink, and auction items were served up before they took the field.
It has become the kind of event where they even come out of retirement to help. Long-time running backs coach Jim Anderson, who retired last season after 29 years on staff, put his pupils through the bags and ropes as if they were Corey Dillon and Rudi Johnson.
It was a day for those kind of good vibes. Still got a lot of support via twitter from his mates. A sampling:
Cornerback Darqueze Dennard: "Prayers for Leah Still this morning !!!"
Defensive end Carlos Dunlap: "#Pray for Leah that the Sugery goes better then any doc think of."
Still's story has captured the country and his pre-surgery Instagram went viral as he gave Leah "a pep talk," where they both fist bumped into the camera.