GREEN BAY – Every October, the Packers vs. Cancer campaign has been an initiative close to Mason Crosby's heart for several reasons.
Having a grandmother who died of breast cancer and a sister-in-law who's still battling ovarian cancer, the Packers' kicker and his wife, Molly have been active in promoting cancer awareness and research through their longtime association with the Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation.
Then, earlier this summer, the disease again hit close to the Crosbys' home.
Molly had been experiencing prolonged symptoms consistent with a sinus infection, with constant bouts of coughing and congestion through the summer. It led her to an appointment with her primary care physician, Dr. James Ebben, who also happens to be one of the Packers' team doctors.
An X-ray was performed and showed a blurry spot in her lung. A CT scan later revealed the mass that was eventually diagnosed as a neuroendocrine tumor. It was a strange development for an otherwise healthy 32-year-old mother of five who is a non-smoker.
While Mason fought to keep his job as the Packers' kicker in training camp, he and Molly sought the advice of medical professionals prior to her undergoing surgery the day after Green Bay's preseason finale with Kansas City.
"The prognosis ended up being the best possible thing. She doesn't have to do chemo or radiation," said Crosby following Tuesday's news conference to announce this year's Packers vs. Cancer initiative. "We felt fortunate and felt like we caught it at the right time. It wasn't like a threat to spread throughout. They were able to isolate it and take it out, and we're in recovery now."
The most difficult part was dealing with the unknown of why the tumor formed in the first place. Doctors weren't sure whether it was genetic or something caused by an environment.
The Crosbys were told, in recent years, neuroendocrine tumors have become more prevalent in the lungs of women between the ages of 25-35. Upon receiving the initial diagnosis, Molly was set to undergo surgery right before training camp.
A full-body scan was performed that showed an additional blood clot in Molly's abdomen. If not for that scan, the clot could have triggered complications with the surgery.
Throughout August, the couple met with doctors at Bellin Hospital, Ebben and fellow Packers team doctors Patrick McKenzie and John Gray, and physicians throughout the Midwest before putting together a formal plan of attack.
They postponed surgery until the blood clot was treated and then finally removed the tumor after the Kansas City game. One month post-op, Molly is doing well.
"She feels good," Crosby said. "What was so weird was she didn't feel awful. It was almost tough at times because we'd kind of get rolling into a normal routine (but) we were going to have pretty serious surgery in a couple weeks. That was different but we feel very fortunate that it didn't take her down. It wasn't something that really affected her daily life."
Professionally, it was a challenging month for Mason as he faced tough competition from Sam Ficken for the kicking job. He proved to be more than capable of handling it, putting in a strong camp and preseason in spite of what Molly was dealing with.
On the same Aug. 31 morning surgeons told the Crosbys they successfully removed the entire tumor and saved "more of her lung than anticipated," Mason was informed he'd retained Green Bay's kicking job for a 13th consecutive year.
"Just going through that whole process puts a lot into perspective like family and what's important," Crosby said. "I got to come to work and have a little (moment) where I can come see my teammates and have fun. We look at it as it was scary but a lot of positives that came out of it, as well.
"I felt like that Saturday morning after camp, whenever all that kind of was finally behind us, we were able to take a deep breath and move into the next phase of the season."
The other positive was Mason's brother, Rees, and his wife, Brittany, came to Green Bay to spend a week with Molly after her surgery. The two have been a constant source of strength for the couple, especially given everything Brittany has overcome in her three-year cancer battle.
The message Mason and Molly hope to convey through their story is the importance of regular checkups and preventive screenings.
"It has been a wild few years," Crosby said. "It's scary just because everyone is touched by it. Molly is very intentional of doing things to not have this happen, so that has kind of given her a new perspective and freed her up. She's like, 'I am going to enjoy life for what it is.'"
Starting this month, the Packers again will be selling a Packers vs. Cancer knit hat in the Packers Pro Shop with $5 of every purchase going to the Vince Lombardi Cancer Foundation. The organization also will recognize cancer survivors prior to Green Bay's Week 6 game against the Detroit Lions on Monday Night Football.