Cubs players who survived cancer connect with, inspire fans battling disease

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CHICAGO -- Sometimes a health hurdle can actually be a stepping-stone towards a lifetime of victory. That’s the case for two Cubs players who are also cancer survivors, and as their team goes for a World Series win, players and fans alike are flying hope like a W flag.

Even the tiniest Cubs fans know the words to “Go Cubs Go,” and Jake is no exception. He likes to sing the song while he’s in his room at Lurie Children’s Hospital. And it’s not just his namesake on the team, Jake Arrieta, that makes Jake like that song. It’s also Anthony Rizzo, a regular hospital visitor and amazing example of beating cancer – and the odds.

“I’ve seen Riz’ talk to other kids and it’s a pretty cool moment when you get to see these guys talk to kids about what they went through,” Cubs catcher David Ross said.

Rizzo was just 18 years old when doctors uttered the unthinkable:  “you have cancer.”

He was just drafted by the Boston Red Sox when he found out that instead of playing baseball, he would be focusing on battling Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Rizzo was shocked, but as he went through chemotherapy, he never gave up hope.

When Ed Wegner had to tell his son about the rare cancer the 19-year-old baseball player was facing, he used Anthony Rizzo as inspiration.

“Anthony prevailed and was successful, got back to playing baseball, and look at his story today,” Ed said. “The connection with Anthony has been there from the beginning of the process.”

“[It] was a big inspirational moment I guess learning everything he went thru and where he’s at now,” Jusin said. “Not that I can do the same thing, go be an All-Star, but just the fact to get back out on the field is something I look to a lot from him.”

The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater catcher knows he has two pros rooting for him, so with messages from Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, he is staying strong.

Just like Anthony Rizzo is the example of light in a dark challenge, Jon Lester was that shining star for him. Rizzo admits the ace pitcher who battled anaplastic large cell lymphoma threw him a lifeline in a locker room long ago, when Rizzo dropped to the floor as they talked about the weight of cancer.

Rizzo recalls thinking, “if I could be like Lester, success would follow in baseball and beyond.”

And today it’s both their stories of survival that are inspiring current Cubs players.

“These guys have a perspective that I don’t have, they have the perspective of life, that life is so important and really what the big picture is all about,” Ross said.

“We get built up as heroes and role models as players, and these kids, when you go to these hospitals, look up to these guys. And when they know Jon Lester is starting Game One of the World Series, and he had cancer, that gives them hope, and I think that’s number one,” Ross said.

The Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation raises money for cancer research. As important as a World Series win is for Rizzo and the Cubs, he knows it would truly be a home run to find a cancer cure.

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