Children are a gift from God. My mother used to tell me that every time I would complain about a baby crying on an airplane, or a toddler acting up at the dinner table. Ever since I was old enough to actually understand the grand myth of where babies come from, I have never been kid-friendly. Sure they are cute, and, hell, they may even be the sweetest things on God’s green earth, but I just have never been a huge fan. That was before I knew who Leah Still was.
At the 2015 ESPYS Awards, in front of dozen upon dozen of famous athletes, actors, models and TV personalities, Devon Still accepted the Jimmy V Perseverance award and took the microphone. Still, a defensive tackle with the Cincinnati Bengals Organization first hit the tabloids in June 2014, when his four-year-old daughter, Leah, was diagnosed with stage four cancer. Still was faced with every parent’s worst nightmare.
“I would just ask God, 'Why did you give my daughter this fight?,' Still said. "I would beg him to give me this fight with death instead of my daughter.”
During this time, the Cincinnati Bengals gave a helping hand to their lost brother. After cutting him from the team, the Bengals re-signed Still to the practice squad to help him pay for his daughter's cancer treatment. Also, the Bengals allowed Still’s jersey to be placed on sale with all proceeds going towards the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. Over $1 million have been raised in Leah’s honor.
Throughout the season, little Leah remained strong and would do anything to make her daddy smile. During this time, Leah was to remain in Hospital care while Devon was forced to hit the tackling dummies and bring home the paycheck to pay for treatment. While this took a toll on the Daddy-Daughter Duo, Devon wasn’t going to let his daughter go without a fight.
“Who was I to go and try and find an escape through liquor, where she had no escape through her pain she was going through,” Still said. “I would grab my fiancée's hand and we would drop to our knees every night and we would pray I wouldn’t lose my daughter while I was in Cincinnati.”
Still didn’t lose Leah, instead Leah fought back and wouldn't give up. After a yearlong fight, Leah is on track to become a regular little girl again. Still once again thanked multiple people who supported him during this tragic time in their lives. In the end of a heart-felt emotional speech, Devon Still made sure that every child fighting cancer was honored like his daughter.
"For every child out there that's battling cancer ... y'all are the real heroes," Still said. “Y’all never give up.”
While Devon received the award that night, the true winner was Leah Still. At four years old, Leah was told she would never have another normal day of her life again. Everyday became an adventure, not because she was young and had a vivid imagination, but because everyday might be her last. Instead of crying about having a disease, she embraced the loving words from those around her and took on the battle, headstrong.
There are some people in this world who couldn’t handle cancer at the age of thirty; Leah handled it at four. Now - while the cancer will never leave her body, nor will she ever have a truly normal life - Leah Still is in remission. Better than that, according to Dad, she is almost back to her normal-functioning self.
From being told she has terminal cancer, to now smiling with her daddy, we can smile back and be #LeahStrong.