Clemons dealing with niece’s terminal illness

Jacksonville Jaguars receiver Toney Clemons grabs his cellphone,
flips through a couple of screens and starts reading the
stomach-churning details.

Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma is usually found in children
between the ages of 5 and 10. Kids typically survive less than a
year after being diagnosed. There is no known cause or cure.
Treatment calls for months of radiation. And, ultimately, the brain
cancer slowly robs motor function, resulting in partial paralysis,
loss of voice and sight and an inability to eat and breathe.

Clemons’ 3-year-old niece, Maiyanna, was diagnosed with DIPG in
May and it’s changed his life and his outlook on training camp.

Maiyanna complained about not being able to see and Clemons’
sister, Mycah, took her daughter to a hospital in their hometown of
Pittsburgh. Tests revealed an inoperable tumor on her brain

She started radiation treatment about a week later, a sudden
change for a little girl whose life had been mostly about
princesses, fancy dresses and shiny tiaras.

Hours after getting the diagnosis, the 24-year-old Clemons left
Jacksonville to return home and be with his family.

”There’s been physical changes to her, of course, but her
spirit and her intelligence level and her sense of humor, all of
that, is just the same, which is amazing to me because I know she
knows she’s terminal,” Clemons said. ”She’s old enough to
understand. One day, she’s never sick and the next she’s going to
the hospital over and over again and getting tubes in her. But it
never fazes her.

”To see a little girl go through that kind of stuff, it makes
me look at myself and know I can’t feel sorry for myself at

Maiy, who has switched to a completely organic diet, finished
her most recent radiation treatment two weeks ago – and got some
positive news afterward. Tests showed a smaller mass and dying
cancer cells in the tumor, Clemons said.

But Clemons doesn’t want to get too optimistic right now
considering the cancer’s survival rate.

He prefers to think about everything in the works for Maiy over
the next few months. Clemons and his sister are planning to take
Maiy to as many amusement parks as they can. They already hit every
one in Pennsylvania and have their sights set on Disney World, Sea
World and Universal in nearby Orlando as well as trips to
Disneyland, Six Flags and some of the top zoos.

”We want her to be the focus,” Clemons said. ”Just so she can
see it and experience it and have fun. That’s what it’s all about
as a child. Give her all the things that we never had as kids.
That’s the goal.”

Clemons’ other goal is to make Jacksonville’s roster. He
realizes what that would mean financially and for his family, which
includes his mother and his four siblings.

But it’s far from a sure thing.

Clemons, a seventh-round draft pick by the Steelers in 2012 who
played four games for the Jaguars last season, is behind Cecil
Shorts III, Justin Blackmon, Mike Brown, rookie Ace Sanders and
Mohamed Massaquoi on the depth chart. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound
Clemons is the biggest receiver of the group, but he’s also facing
some high hurdles.

Shorts and Blackmon are the incumbent starters. The team drafted
Sanders in April, signed Massaquoi in free agency and has raved
about Brown during training camp. So Clemons is a dark horse.

”He’s come in to compete now,” receivers coach Jerry Sullivan
said. ”He’s had some days he’s wished he could have over and he’s
flashed some good stuff. For him, it’s all about growing and
staying consistent.”

Clemons had two acrobatic catches near the sideline Monday, but
followed those with a head-scratching drop Tuesday. Previously,
that kind of error would stick with him the rest of practice,
causing him some mental angst.

Nowadays, though, he thinks of everything Maiy is going through.
He even wears a purple band with the phase ”Maiy’s Miracle” on
his right wrist as a constant reminder.

”She’s definitely changed my perspective,” Clemons said. ”She
gives me a new energy, a new focus and a new purpose of why I’m
playing. If I’m tired or if I’m struggling or if I drop a ball or
if I run the wrong route, I think back to seeing her and all types
of tubes in her and going through radiation and losing some of her

”I know if she has the strength to fight through that and be
positive about it and be happy every single day, then there’s
nothing out there that should get me down.”

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