Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo started a tradition in his frequent visits to the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. He brings his jersey and offers each child a trade: He’ll sign something for them, if they sign his jersey in return.
“Now I have this jersey with more than 100 signatures on it that reminds me every day how truly lucky I am,” Rizzo says.
Rizzo knows what the kids who sign his jersey are going through. He has been where they are—a startling diagnosis, a future suddenly uncertain.
In April 2008, at age 18, Rizzo was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. His life changed in an instant.
Through it all, no matter how he felt, the process was even more challenging for his family, he says. “I stayed as positive as possible so that everyone around me, especially my family, did not worry about how I was feeling.”
The encouragement from his family kept him motivated even after his treatment stopped. Rizzo pledged to continue to help kids with cancer, giving them that support.
In 2012, four years after he was told he was in remission, Rizzo started the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation to raise money for cancer research and help kids with cancer and their families. His family and close friends run the nonprofit, and Rizzo provides oversight.
Strong family support when a child has cancer makes the situation easier on everyone, says Jennifer Reichek, MD, MSW, a hematologist/oncologist at Lurie Children’s. “A diagnosis really is a family affair. It takes a toll on the whole family.”