Bengals lineman hits field, emotions running high as daughter battles cancer

Devon Still practices at Bengals training camp, as his personal life remains in emotional upheaval.

Aaron Doster/Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

As Cincinnati Bengals defensive lineman Devon Still reports for training camp, his mind is elsewhere.

What the 25-year-old Still found out on June 2 changed his outlook on the game of football and life: His 4-year-old daughter had been diagnosed with Stage IV cancer.

Still opens up about the devastating news in a riveting piece by Paul Dehner Jr. in The Cincinnati Enquirer, expressing the emotional toll it has taken on the third-year NFL veteran.

"My head is messed up, to be honest with you," Still said. "It’s messed up. Sometimes I feel bipolar. Sometimes I wake up and I’m optimistic. Sometimes I wake up and it’s just heavy on me."

Still first shared the news about his daughter on Instagram "not for sympathy" he wrote in the post, but "because I’ve come to the point where (I’m) no longer feeling sorrow, but to ask that y’all keep my daughter in your prayers. The more prayers that go up, the more faith we (have) that she will overcome this obstacle."

When Still found out about Leah’s cancer, he didn’t think he could continue with his football career, he told the paper. But as time has gone on, he says he has found some small semblance of solace in being on the field.

"Being here playing football, being here with the guys, having a reason to laugh sometimes takes a lot of that sorrow off of me, or the depression, whatever you want to call it. Playing football helps out a lot," Still said.

A second-round pick by the Bengals in 2012, Still has played in only 18 games for Cincinnati, spending much of that time dealing with injuries. But that adversity holds no candle to the struggle he watches his daughter undergo.

And as it’s gone on, Still has put his emotions and Leah’s fight on full display to the world through social media.

On June 6, he pledged to go bald, just as Leah soon would be once faced with chemotherapy.

On June 21, he posted a precious video of Leah thanking all of the people supporting her.

On July 5, it was a family "selfie" snapped from a hospital, Leah without any hair.

A week later, an emotional birthday wish.

Then, a kiss.

On July 20, one more picture before it was time for Still to go to training camp. He took comfort in knowing that Leah would soon be coming from Pennsylvania to a hospital in Cincinnati for treatment.

And Thursday, the continuing emotional struggle, as he writes in a post with this photo: "FaceTime before her stem cell harvest…it’s hard to hold back the tears knowing I’m too far away to be there when she wakes up from her procedure but I keep a smile on my face so that she will keep one on hers… I know Gods in our corner and he will watch over her"

Still’s support for his little girl is uplifting.

His pain is heartbreaking.

His perspective is eye opening.

"I know her seeing me continuing to play football will put a smile on her face," he said. "So I’m doing whatever I can do for her," Still told the Enquirer.

One of those things he’s doing is the creation of an online fundraising campaign. On the Pldgit page, Still writes, "Two months ago I found out my daughter has neuroblastoma, a rare form of cancer. Kids always look up to their parents, but in just a matter of a week that all reversed for me. I can honestly say I truly look up to my daughter now. In the four years of life she has had, she has been through way more than I have in 24. Her courage, strength, and high spirits through it all is nothing short of inspirational.

"So I am dedicating my season to her and inspiring others like she has inspired me. Please join our team by pledging to donate for every sack our defense has this season."

If that is not cause to root for the Bengals pass rushers, no matter your team allegiance, you’d be hard-pressed to find one at all.