Inside the entrance to the Tackle Cancer office is a poster-size picture of our founder Elijah Alexander with then 15-year old Ryan Davidson. This larger-than-life former NFL linebacker and a frail teenage boy shared a deep love of football. They also had one other thing in common. They both had cancer.
“I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in October of 2005. And I told my wife, at that time in the emergency room, I said ‘I’m dying.’”
That’s how Elijah remembered his diagnosis with a rare bone marrow cancer. There was no cure, and in 2005 treatments were limited and could be harsh
“I didn’t want that to be the memory that my kids had of me, laid up in a bed fighting for my life.”
Chemotherapy made him weak. A bone marrow transplant made him weaker. His wife Kimberly says, “I saw my husband go through some things I would not want anyone to witness.”
Then a dramatic change.
New medications became available to fight the cancer without poisoning the body. The first new treatment for Elijah was REVLIMID® an oral drug Elijah could take with a glass of water at home. He still had cancer, but he felt good, and he felt energetic. “My family got to see me living again.”
Elijah started the Tackle Myeloma Foundation to support patients and raised money for the International Myeloma Foundation to conduct research and get answers to pressing questions like: How did a young, fit, former football player get a cancer that usually strikes the elderly?
Their work began, but they quickly realized there was more to be done. Elijah and Kimberly couldn’t stop thinking about the other people they met in the hospital. The children they met and their families stirred powerful emotions.
Tackle Cancer Supporter Russ Rausch, met Elijah just months before he passed away. “Elijah took me to a hospital so I could see first-hand, how families with cancer manage. It hits you pretty hard. So many parents have to quit their job to be there for the child. They are fighting to keep their child alive. The last thing they can think about are the bills.”
If the families couldn’t “think about their bills,” Elijah and Kimberly began thinking about their bills for them. Tackle Myeloma became Tackle Cancer and they began raising money to help pay the utility bills for families whose focus was on more pressing matters of life and death. Elijah traveled to Washington to speak to members of Congress. And with Kimberly and their sons in tow, they traveled to cancer conferences to raise awareness of patient needs.
It was at one of those conferences that Elijah met Ryan Davidson. At 15, Ryan had been battling brain cancer since he was 9 years old. Elijah and Ryan had different cancers, but they shared a treatment, and a fierce determination.
Ryan’s father Kirby remembers Elijah befriending his son, teaching him to pass a football despite a weak right arm, and telling Ryan they were brothers because they both had cancer. Kirby says, “The way these two hit it off you would have thought that they had known each other for years! That was just Elijah’s style.”
But even the best treatments are not yet cures.
Ryan passed away on his 16th birthday. Elijah left us a few months later when he was 39 years old, still a young man. But Tackle Cancer lives on. Kimberly keeps the dream alive while raising their two boys saying Elijah gave them the passion to continue the work, to always try your hardest and never let any obstacle stand in your way.