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Redskins Spotlight Breast Cancer Survivors

Posted Oct 11, 2011

The Redskins and Chris Cooley hosted the fourth annual All-Star Survivors Celebration on Tuesday, giving women battling breast cancer an afternoon of pampering and support.


Wanda Pica is a team player.

It’s natural for her to help others, even when she needs help herself.

So it was appropriate that on Tuesday, Oct. 11, Pica found herself at Redskins Park, feeling as if she were a part of the Redskins team, part of the Redskins family.

She was one of 20 area women battling breast cancer invited to the Fourth Annual All-Star Survivors Celebration at the Redskins’ facility.

Pica was diagnosed with breast cancer last February and in the months that followed she underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatment. She built a strong support group, including family and friends, to help her with the healing process.

Now she can’t wait to help other women battling breast cancer.

That’s what a team player does.

“I’m excited about what I can do in the future to help others,” Pica said. “Until I went through this, I didn’t realize how many other ladies had breast cancer. You would never know, in some cases – they’re living life and doing things.”

The All-Star Survivors Celebration was started by Redskins tight end Chris Cooley in 2008 after his mother Nancy was diagnosed with breast cancer. The event is designed to help break up the monotony of the sometimes daily chemotherapy treatment and its side effects.

The 20 women received brand new wigs, scarves, makeup, jeans provided by The Gap, and a custom-made pink and burgundy Redskins jersey. They were treated to a makeup session with a licensed cosmetologist as well as a guided tour of Redskins Park.

The guide? Cooley himself.

Inside the Redskins locker room, he invited women to try on players’ jerseys and helmets. He posed for pictures in front of his locker. And, most of all, he encouraged the women to have fun.

Cooley remembers well what treatment was like for his mother.

“I could never know what it feels like to go through what she went through, but I know that it was hard for her,” he said. “I watched her deal with it. I watched her change.”

He recalled cutting off his mother’s hair and trying to find humor in the situation so that it would be less upsetting. (One side effect of chemotherapy is gradual hair loss and many women with breast cancer opt to remove their hair all at once.)

“I tried to make it funny, but it just wasn’t,” Cooley said. “It was hard. So we got together and said, ‘Why don’t we have a day where women who are currently battling breast cancer can come to spend time with each other, to talk about it with each other, to have that option to get makeup, to get wigs, to do fun things.'”

The Redskins partnered with the American Cancer Society to host Tuesday's event. Safety Reed Doughty was on hand to help Cooley with tours. Players' wives, including linebacker Lorenzo Alexander's wife Manjanique, were on hand.

"These women are happy today, and if this takes them away from what they're going through, even if for a couple hours, then I’m glad that I'm here,” Manjanique said.

Susan Moser, who is currently undergoing chemotherapy, felt grateful to be invited.

“It’s really nice to get out and talk with some women who are going through this, too,” she said. "It's wonderful."

Moser wore a wrap covering her head and a nametag fastened to her shirt identifying her as an “All-Star Survivor.”

She admitted she doesn’t quite feel like a survivor yet, but she can “see it on the horizon coming up soon.”

“Breast cancer is another challenge in my life that I’ve had to deal with,” she said. “I know I can get through it. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Come spring, my hair will grow back and I’ll be feeling better.”

That positive outlook is a common theme among breast cancer survivors. The All-Star Survivors Celebration helped reinforce that message.

“Events like this that help get you laughing and doing positive things,” Moser said. “I think that definitely helps get you through it because there are days where you feel terrible. If someone starts complaining about something, I just don’t want to be around them. It helps to be around positive energy.”

Tanya Snyder, wife of Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder, also helped host Tuesday’s All-Stars Survivors Celebration. In a series of interviews with media, she made a point to emphasize that early screenings for breast cancer are essential.

Three years ago, Snyder was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Now she’s a survivor herself.

“This is the therapeutic part, and also the surreal part,” Snyder said during Tuesday's event. “I was a big believer in the cause, and I certainly did not mean to be part of the statistics.

"But the truth of the matter is, it can affect all of us, and most people have a story of a loved one that breast cancer has touched. People are here to give back for that reason.”

In that regard, we’re all team players.