Shelley Wilton wasn't sure what to expect when she was invited for a Day of Pampering at Gillette Stadium.
The die-hard New England Patriots fan was excited, of course, but that emotion was mixed with a little apprehension. To this point, approaching two years since she was diagnosed with stage four endometrial cancer, one of her coping mechanisms had been not to talk about it much. That wouldn't be an option Monday, but around those who could relate and other survivors, words came out a little easier.
"This is one of the most special days to me personally because I lost the dearest person in my life to this insidious disease over 11 years ago," said Robert Kraft, president and CEO of the New England Patriots, of his late wife.
"I know what you're going through. I remember the chemo, the radiation, the pain."
The Day of Pampering kicked off the NFL Crucial Catch Campaign, but it's an event near and dear to the Patriots Foundation that honors the legacy of Myra Kraft, who lost her own battle with cancer in 2011.
Women who are receiving treatment at Mass General Hospital, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and surrounding areas were invited to partake in group yoga, candle making, massages, manicures and jewelry making.
Shortly before lunch, a handful of Patriots players like Deatrich Wise Jr., David Andrews, Matthew Judon, Nelson Agholor, Cole Strange, Myles Bryant, Pierre Strong, Laquon Treadwell, Brendan Schooler, Marcus Jones and Tre Nixon surprised the women with gift baskets and their own custom jerseys.
"I think it's amazing that a big organization like the Patriots really believe in the community. They look at what people are going through in their daily lives," said Karla McCarron, who was diagnosed with breast cancer on April Fool's Day in 2021. After a battle with many twists and turns, she finished treatment at Dana Farber this past June.
"It was amazing to meet these women today -- all different types of cancer, at different parts in their journey -- and it's really encouraging to have the Patriots back that. Just having the players come in and all the gifts, it's just been amazing."
The gifts didn't end there, though. After all, these women needed an occasion to wear their new Patriots jerseys, and Robert Kraft personally invited them all to the Crucial Catch game, where New England will host the Chicago Bears for Monday Night Football.
"I got here and I can't believe all that they've done," Shelley said. "What I said to Mr. Kraft was that this makes me more proud to be a Patriots fan, because they're not just a team. They're not just a great football team, but they're basically humanitarians in what they do for the community. They care about people, and I kind of always felt like that just being a fan. But now being here? Yeah, they do. And it's genuine. I could feel it when I was standing next to him. It just feels special to be here at Gillette and to be a fan. I didn't expect that today."
The Day of Pampering was therapeutic for all sixteen women in attendance, quickly bonding over everything from their hometowns, mutual connections, and the moment they decided to shave their heads themselves.
"When you start to go through these situations you feel very isolated and alone," Karla said. "Of course, you have your family to back you up but not everybody always gets it -- like you're having a bad day you feel kind of crummy -- these ladies all get it. This is an amazing day for all of us. I never in my life would have met these women but now I feel like it's just this new group of friends that I'll have moving forward."
No one could have prepared these women for their diagnosis, but all together Monday, they were reminded of how strong they are, how far they've come, and the new perspective they've gained.
Their situations may be unique, but they're not all that different from each other.
"It's literally like a pack of warrior women right here," Shelley said. "I mean, yes, we all have different cancers. We all have different journeys, but we all have that same fight, that same spiritual peace that we're never giving up and we're holding each other. I hadn't anticipated that feeling -- I guess camaraderie is a word -- but it just feels stronger than that."
As part of the Crucial Catch: Intercept Cancer campaign, 17 cancer survivors were treated to "Patriots Day of Pampering" at Gillette Stadium on Monday, Oct. 3. The women made candles and jewelry and received manicures, in addition to meeting Patriots owner Robert Kraft and several players, including David Andrews, Matthew Judon, Nelson Agholor, Cole Strange, and Deatrich Wise Jr. They also received a surprise invitation from Kraft to attend the Patriots game against the Chicago Bears on Monday, Oct. 24.