When a child is diagnosed with cancer, it takes a toll on all parties involved.
"You hear that news as a parent and obviously it's horrible," said Matt Lynch, whose son Liam has been battling cancer since December 2019. "It's everything you could imagine and worse. All you want to do is tell your kid it's going to be okay and with these certain situations you can't tell him it's going to be okay, because you don't know."
An estimated 15,000 or more children are diagnosed with cancer in the United States each year, marking the start of an incredibly difficult journey.
"It's caused him to grow up very quickly," Matt said of Liam's battle with cancer. "He's dealt with things that most adults will never deal with."
All season, the Buffalo Bills are celebrating families like Liam's who have been affected by cancer as part of the NFL's Crucial Catch initiative. This season marks the 15th that the NFL has partnered with the American Cancer Society to promote early detection and preventing the risk of cancer.
Crucial Catch encourages fans to learn more about the importance of early detection as well as ways to reduce their cancer risk through getting screened for signs of the disease. The NFL has contributed over $27 million to the American Cancer Society through sales of branded merchandise, auction items and general fundraising.
The money raised goes towards community health centers in all 32 NFL team markets to increase access to low or no-cost cancer screenings in communities that need it most. Early cancer screenings save lives, as the earlier cancer is diagnosed, the faster doctors and medical professionals can provide the appropriate treatment.
Liam's initial bout with cancer began when his parents noticed abnormal swelling in his neck. The young Bills fan spent over a month at Oishei Children's Hospital and received a special video from quarterback Josh Allen, who was in just his second year with the Buffalo Bills.
"He probably supported me the most since the beginning of my cancer journey," Liam said. "That one day I probably watched it maybe three times."
Liam went into remission in March 2022, but was diagnosed with leukemia in February 2023. Despite engaging in his own battle with cancer, Liam has helped thousands of children who are going through similar circumstances.
After running out of pajamas in the hospital one night, Liam and his father noted that there were no spare PJs in the hospital. To ensure that every child has the ability to sleep comfortably, Liam has since gathered thousands of pajamas for children at Oishei through pajama drives at his father's work and his elementary and middle school.
"Not a lot of kids that would be in that position wanting to do stuff for others and it just shows the character that Liam has and his family has taught him," Allen said.
Liam had the chance to go on the field before the Bills defeated the Miami Dolphins at Highmark Stadium Sunday afternoon. Liam's story was told through a video played on the jumbotron before the game and can be found here.
The Buffalo Bills hosted pediatric cancer patients and their families for their Crucial Catch Family Fun Night. The Buffalo Bills Crucial Catch program is sponsored by John R. Oishei Children's Hospital.
On Tuesday, the Bills and Oishei Children's Hospital hosted families, like Liam's, who have been affected by cancer for a night at Highmark Stadium, which included dinner, games, balloon animals, music and a meet and greet with Dawson Knox, Kingsley Jonathan, Quintin Morris and Ja'Marcus Ingram.
"It was awesome, just having a lot of families and seeing a bunch of little kids that are dealing with something really hard," Knox said. "Just kind of a good distraction for those families dealing with such a difficult thing."
As a Bill, Knox believes that giving his time to families comes in the job description of being an NFL player.
"I think it's one of the most important things I can be doing with my time because I know the platform that we're given as NFL players," Knox said. "Doesn't matter who you are, where you come from, if you put on an NFL jersey, these kids are gonna look at you like you're Batman or Superman."
Thursday morning, the Buffalo Bills Women's Association gathered at Dunn Tire Club to make fleece blankets for patients battling cancer. Jamie McDermott and Hayley Beane were among those who volunteered.
In addition to Liam and his family, the Bills will also have families who have been affected by pediatric cancer as well as healthcare workers from Oishei Children's Hospital on field before the game to hold banners during player introductions and the National Anthem.
Since his time began in Buffalo, Allen has always had a passion for helping young patients and their families at Oishei Children's. In 2021, the hospital and Allen partnered to build the 'Patricia Allen Pediatric Recovery Wing,' named in honor of the quarterback's late grandmother. Over 27,000 fans donated in honor of Patricia's memory to aid the construction of the wing.