During his playing days there were few Patriots tougher than Joe Andruzzi. From his bouts with various injuries during his career, which spanned from 2000-04 and included starts in all 72 games he played, to his battle with non-Hodgkin's Burkitt's Lymphoma, Andruzzi's ability to handle pain is beyond reproach.
But Andruzzi didn't look anything like the tough guy he was playing guard for three Patriots Super Bowl winners on a sunny Wednesday morning at Gillette Stadium. Andruzzi is now almost five years removed from his last cancer treatments, and although he still suffers from side effects like numbness of his fingers and hands, he took on a much different persona while hosting a pair of special people on the game field.
Always one of the more affable and approachable members of the team, Andruzzi was all smiles while introducing Eric Kelly and Jackie Mullen, along with members of their families, to a few Patriots. Kelly and Mullen are dealing with the devastations that cancer can create, ones Andruzzi knows all too well, and that's why he brought them to Foxborough as he prepares to tee off his fourth annual Joe Andruzzi and Friends Golf Tournament June 18.
"Anything we can do to make life a little easier, not just for the patients but for their families as well, we want to do," Andruzzi said. "It can really be anything – it's such a strain on a family in so many ways. Financially – if we can provide a mortgage payment or groceries or help around the holidays – those are things that can be really difficult. There are enough things to worry about for these people so we try to help anyway we can.
"Having them come out here is just a small thing to take their minds off of real life. Seeing the smiles and watching the guys interact with them is something that is really special."
Kelly is a 23-year-old U.S. Marine from Mansfield, Mass., who returned home from Afghanistan last fall only to learn he'd be starting treatment for stage 3 Rhabdomyosarcoma at Dana-Farber. Weeks of intense radiation and chemotherapy followed and Kelly said he only started to feel like himself again in March.
Mullen is an adorable 5-year-old girl who donned a Tom Brady jersey and a smile all morning. On her fourth birthday she complained of ear pain to her parents, and eventually they learned she had a cancerous tumor in her skull bone that was pressing on her drum and ear canal. A biopsy confirmed it was Langerhans' cell histiocytosis, a rare disorder primarily effecting children under the age of 10. Her treatments kept her out of pre-school but have done little to change her youthful exuberance.
Andruzzi brought them to meet some Patriots on Wednesday. First it was Rob Ninkovich, Rob Gronkowski and Jermaine Cunningham laughing and posing for pictures, then Tom Brady came out to say hello. Finally Robert Kraft emerged, quickly scooping up young Jackie and joking with Kelly, who was wearing a Danny Woodhead jersey, leading to the owner's quip – "I like Woodhead. He's the only one I can look down on."
"We all have someone in our lives who has been touched by cancer," said Gronkowski, who will join Ninkovich as co-hosts for Andruzzi's golf tournament. "Joe does such a great job with his foundation and working with these kids. Joe and his wife [Jen] do so much for these families. I'm just glad to be a part of it in any little way that I can help."
Andruzzi, who is working as an assistant strength and conditioning coach for the Patriots, will host his tournament at Granite Links Golf Course in Quincy, Mass. His foundation provides financial assistance to cancer patients and their families, and funds pediatric brain cancer research. For more information on the tournament log onto JoeAndruzziFoundation.org or call (774) 284-4694.