IRVING, Texas — On the afternoon of September 7, LaTisha Jarrett figured she’d watch an NFL game with her husband, Otis.
What she witnessed shortly thereafter brought her to tears.
While watching the Carolina Panthers’ season-opening game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, LaTisha noticed Panthers star running back DeAngelo Williams sporting pink dreadlocks.
“When I saw it, when I saw the pink dreads, I just wanted to look more into it,” LaTisha said.
What she learned during an online search was that Williams, Carolina’s all-time leading rusher, dyed his signature dreadlocks and painted his toenails pink in honor of his late mother, who in May lost her battle with breast cancer.
Williams also had four aunts to die of this dreaded disease.
Williams, 31, has been quite instrumental of the NFL’s breast cancer awareness campaign and is credited with persuading the league to allow players to wear pink in October for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
While watching the Panthers’ outlast Tampa Bay, 20-14, LaTisha and her husband were moved by Williams’ unique gesture in paying homage to his mother, in large part because they can relate to Williams’ experience of losing a loved one to breast cancer.
In July 2002, less than two years before the couple met, Otis’ mother, Carolyn Jarrett, was diagnosed with breast cancer. She ultimately went into remission approximately eight months later after having one of her breasts removed. However, the cancer eventually spread to her other breast nearly a year later.
Carolyn died in November 2005, days after Otis proposed to LaTisha to marry him.
“We thought that she would go into remission after (having the second breast removed) and that would take care of everything because she had the first breast removed,” LaTisha said she wiped away tears Sunday afternoon at West Irving Church of God In Christ. “It was very drastic. It happened so fast. She passed three days after Thanksgiving. She could not come to (Thanksgiving) dinner because she was too weak.”
As LaTisha continued to wipe away tears, she couldn’t help but reflect on the memorable moments she enjoyed with her mother-in-law.
“The relationship that I built with her in that year-and-a-half was remarkable,” LaTisha said. “The way she just embraced me and brought me in was remarkable. (Her death) was hard for me because OJ (Otis) was actually taking her to chemotherapy. And seeing her and seeing how weak she would get and…and we’d put her in bed and that was painful for me.”
While watching Williams — a former University of Memphis star who made his only Pro Bowl appearance in 2009 when he rushed for 1,117 yards on 216 carries and seven touchdowns — play the season opener in honor of his late mother inspired the Jarretts to reflects on Carolyn’s memory, the couple hope to someday meet Williams to commend him for steadfastly promoting breast cancer awareness.
“I would love to tell him I appreciate everything he’s doing for breast cancer and awareness and to not let (his vision) die,” Otis Jarrett said.
As National Breast Cancer Awareness Month looms, LaTisha’s itinerary is filling up with regards to participating in various 5K activities. Among them is the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Walk October 18 in Plano, Texas.
After learning of Williams’ story, LaTisha said she feels compelled to pay tribute to his mother during the month of October.
“I would love to walk in his mother’s honor,” said she as she continued to fight back tears. “I would love to put his mother’s name on my back. This young man didn’t ask for his mother to get breast cancer. He’s playing the game in his mother’s honor. He needs more exposure for what he’s doing because it’s positive. People need more awareness as it relates to breast cancer.”
Andre Johnson is a senior writer for MemphiSport. Based in Dallas, Texas, Johnson covers the NFL and the NBA Southwest Division. To reach Johnson, email him email@example.com. Also, follow him on Twitter @AJ_Journalist.