CHICAGO (CBS) — Anthony Rizzo visits Lurie Children’s Hospital about once a month.
“For the last four to five years, I try and make it. It’s part of my routine,” he said. Rizzo is a cancer survivor himself; he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in 2007 shortly after he was drafted by the Boston Red Sox.
“I’ll never forget where I came from, where we came from,” he paused as he fought back tears. “Jeez, I remember sitting with my mom saying we were going to do this ten years ago.”
Now, a waiting room on the 18th floor of the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital is named not only in his honor, but also in the honor of the Rizzo Family Foundation, which has donated two endowments designed to help families of kids with cancer.
Rizzo says his charity work is bigger than everything else, adding, “This is a little step to our mission. But to be able to give back and do this type of work is so much bigger than winning the World Series or doing anything on a baseball field.”
Watching from the audience is Joelle Edmonds and her 8-year-old daughter, Savannah, who is on her second bout with cancer treatment.
“She was diagnosed with Wilms Tumor cancer. She was almost done and her cancer came back, so we’re on her second round,” Edmonds said.
“When I saw Rizzo, I felt like I was about to die,” Savannah laughed.
She and her mother travel from Island Lake every day for her treatments. Savannah says the Cubs first baseman gives her hope.
“It’s kind of weird knowing that he had cancer because he plays baseball, and it’s kind of like he didn’t even go through nothing. He pretends it didn’t even happen. Kind of gives you hope, yeah? Yeah.”
Edmonds says Rizzo is an inspiration to her and her family. “I think it’s amazing what he’s done. He’s a big figure in Chicago. We admire him and we look at him. He’s went through the fight just like my daughter is — it’s her second time through,” she said.
The endowments will help families like the Edmonds, who travel each day for treatment. “We wake up at 4:30 each morning and don’t come home until 9 at night. And we get up and do the same thing the next day,” she said.
One endowment will fund two oncology “child life specialists” to play with the kids and provide pain management. Rizzo says his family was affected by his illness even more than he was.
“To be able to help families directly pay bills is our main goal — research, too. For someone to come into the room right after you’re diagnosed, for someone to explain it to the parents, to the brother or sister about what’s going on and how to ease them into the journey. My family’s been through it, there are so many families here who are going through it. This is as real as it gets in life,” Rizzo said.
The other endowment will be grants to individual families facing financial hardship when they drop everything to be with their children. Rizzo says he never dreamed his foundation would become so big. He added that they’ve only just begun.
“When I was sick at Mass General in Boston, talking to my mom about starting our own foundation, I could’ve never even imagined it would be this big. We hope to continue to grow. Today’s a big day for our family, our foundation, but the mission isn’t over.”
Each year, more than 300 newly diagnosed patients with a wide range of childhood cancers are treated at Lurie Children’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders. Because the Foundation’s gift was made in the form of endowments, these resources will be available for Lurie Children’s patients and families for generations to come.
The Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation has donated more than $4 million to the hospital during Rizzo’s career with the Cubs.
“The sky is the limit, so thank you,” he said.
For Edmonds and Savannah, the new lobby at Lurie and the financial help make all the difference. “It’s coming to a place that makes her feel like home. The way they treat you, it’s simply amazing. It helps you go through it,” said Edmonds.
Savannah has a few more months of treatment, but she already has big plans. “One day we’ll get her to a Cubs game. That’s her next dream,” Edmonds laughed.
Somehow, she might just know someone who could make that happen.