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Yerrid's Heroes: Making A Difference In The Fight Against Cancer

by Lonnie Herman / Tampa Bay Lightning

There are heroes everywhere in our world, some more easily recognized than others. Of course we know about the men and women in our armed forces, and the local police and firemen, for whom bravery is a daily occurrence.

But, quietly going about their daily lives among us are other heroes; people that do what they do quietly, heroes that we may not always get to learn about. Still, their anonymity makes their contributions no less heroic.

That’s one of the things that makes Tampa lawyer Steve Yerrid and The Yerrid Foundation so special. Each year they team with the Tampa Bay Lightning and other community leaders to host Tampa Bay Fights Cancer Night at the St. Pete Times Forum.

Friday, November 21st is the ninth annual evening of recognition for thousands of local patients, families and caregivers involved in the fight against cancer.  The event will take place while the Lightning play host to the Nashville Predators.

The now familiar yellow Yerrid Foundation t-shirts will appear everywhere throughout  the arena as a show of support, as the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Lightning Foundation and The Yerrid Foundation help spread the message that courage, strength and love can build bridges in the battle against cancer.

Along with a night of hockey and fun, three special, otherwise anonymous, local heroes are honored from among the many worthy individuals and families who are engaged in the daily battle against this disease. Tradition calls for these special folks; a caregiver, a patient and a family member, to be singled out and recognized as Yerrid’s Heroes.

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Tucker is a nine year old Welsh Springer Spaniel that was raised to compete in dog shows. Unfortunately for Tucker’s owner, he was not a winner in the show ring. When Kathleen Johnson-Esterly adopted the then four-year-old pup, Tucker was about to find his true calling.

“He didn’t have many canine social skills when we adopted him,” Johnson-Esterly recalled, “but we worked with him and look what we got.”

It’s not only what his owners got, but Tucker has been a source of joy and hope and inspiration for thousands of cancer patients and their families. As a certified therapy dog, Tucker and Johnson-Esterly have visited the Ronald McDonald House two days a week
for almost three years. Everywhere Tucker goes in the House, he leaves behind smiles and hope as only an affectionate pet can do.

Tucker, who also regularly visits All Children’s Hospital and Bayfront Medical Center, always wins over children and their parents, just by being there for the kids to hug and pet. Tucker, who failed in the show ring, succeeds where it means the most – with the kids battling cancer who love and need him. As a result, Tucker and Johnson-Esterly are being recognized as 2008 Yerrid’s Heroes.

“This recognition means so much to us,” Johnson-Esterly said. “We’re thrilled to be named.”

Johnson-Esterly has also become a Ronald McDonald House volunteer on her own and together, she and Tucker have racked up more than 400 volunteer service hours at RMH.

“What an amazing gift the Ronald MacDonald House is for the people that need it.” Johnson-Esterly said.

And what an amazing gift she and Tucker have been to RMH.

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Rebekah Bishop has courage. The sort of courage that transcends what many of us are called on to face in our daily lives.

In 2005 when, at age 14, she was diagnosed with Ewings’s Sarcoma, a rare form of cancer in which cancerous cells are found in the bone or soft tissue, in her right femur, she knew that her life would change.

A native of Okeechobee, Florida, Rebekah was an active teen and natural athlete who had been involved in everything from soccer to running, basketball, swimming and knee boarding.

Since her diagnosis, she has had a right femur, hip and shoulder blade replacement at Moffitt Cancer Center.

While Rebekah would be allowed some self-pity under the circumstances, she will have none of it. Her positive attitude has seen her emerge as an inspirational speaker and has turned her illness into a source of hope for herself, her friends and family, and others who face similar challenges.

“I knew that my attitude, spiritual beliefs and medical treatment would be the key to my overall success and recovery,” Rebekah said.

Rebekah has been a brave fighter with a positive outlook, and she wants to focus some of that fighting spirit on helping others win their battles with cancer, too.

"I have had the best that life can give under my circumstances and would like to help people facing similar challenges,” she explained.  “I can now dance at my senior prom and may even have children. This experience has taught me to look at life with completely new eyes. So many people take the small things in life for granted, and I have really learned to look at each day with new eyes."

Being chosen as one of Yerrid’s Heroes is also very special to her.

“It means so much to me,” Rebekah said. “I’m happy and proud that people would think of me this way.”

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It’s not easy being a kid. Growing up can be frustrating at times. But when cancer, in the form of leukemia, strikes a brother or sister, the dynamics of just being a child can get awfully complicated.

Peyton Mayhew was diagnosed when she was only two years old. For her older siblings, Nathaniel and Rachel, the battle ahead that the family faced would not exclude them.

Nathaniel, now 10, and Rachel, now 7, had to grow up very fast. While siblings of cancer victims often struggle with feelings of being ignored or being less important as the attention of the family focuses on the fight they face, Nathaniel and Rachel have constantly exhibited traits of maturity that belie their tender ages.

Peyton has been the better for it. Whenever Nathaniel and Rachel are around, she perks up. It’s not uncommon for the three of them to be smiling and laughing together. They have been firsthand witnesses to Peyton’s struggles, and they have been her greatest cheerleaders.

For Nathaniel and Rachel’s parents, the unselfishness that they have shown has made the battles so much easier to face and the victories that much sweeter; Peyton has just recently completed her treatment.

For each of Yerrid’s Heroes, the Tampa Bay Lightning and Yerrid Foundation, it’s all about making a contribution in the ongoing battle against cancer.

“Everyone involved is united in our effort to fight cancer and promote awareness that this battle involves us all,” Steve Yerrid said. “Together we can, and will, make a difference.”

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