Washington Redskins fan Isaiah Shorter gained a valuable ally -- linebacker Martrell Spaight -- in his fight with a rare and aggressive form of brain cancer.
Throngs of burgundy and gold clad fans cheered in the chilly stands of FedExField in Landover, Md., on Sunday afternoon. The Washington Redskins put on a defensive show against Arizona, holding the Cardinals to just five field goals, completing the season-long sweep of the NFC West.
In the middle of the crowd, Isaiah Shorter cheered on his favorite NFL team, accompanied by his family. They all had reasons to celebrate, as Shorter had received a unique opportunity before the game.
Shorter, currently battling a unique and advanced form of brain cancer, had brought a sign made by a friend to the game. The message, "Fighting chemo, but can't keep me from my team," caught the attention of FedExField staff, and Shorter was soon given the chance of a lifetime.
"A security guard saw Isaiah with the sign as we were kind of down by the players as they were warming up," said Tim Shorter, Isaiah's father. "He grabbed Isaiah and brought him all the way down and told him how to talk to the players as they were coming on and off the field. What a great experience, what a great person that was to help him out."
Nineteen Redskins players talked to Shorter down on the field before the game and signed the poster that eventually went viral. Shortly after, the family headed back into the stands to enjoy the game. Tim said he was grateful that the team interacted with his son, but thought it surely wouldn't go any further. That was until, he checked his phone after the game to find that one Redskins player was trying to get in touch with his son.
"When I saw him in the stands, it just kind of touched me," said Redskins linebacker Martrell Spaight. "Even though I signed his sign and stuff like that, it just felt like I wanted to do more. After the game, I ended up putting out there on social media, trying to ask Redskins Nation, trying to figure out who the kid was."
With the help of Isaiah's teachers and friends, Spaight was finally able to get in contact with him through Instagram. Spaight sent him messages, praising his toughness during his fight with cancer. It wasn't until he had contacted his parents that Spaight learned the whole story behind Shorter's battle with the disease.
Tim explained that in July, his son began experiencing painful and frequent headaches. The family soon became concerned and scheduled multiple appointments with doctors. After a fourth trip to the hospital, Isaiah was given an MRI scan that revealed the cause behind his pain.
"They called us before we even got home and told us he needed to see a specialist," Tim said. "Three days later, he has surgery to remove a malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumor, which is very rare to have in a young child. It's never been documented to ever be in the brain. There's been no case studies or anything."
Doctors removed 80 percent of the tumor in surgery, and Isaiah is now in the midst of a three-month chemotherapy treatment. Following another MRI after Christmas, the family will know if a second surgery will be needed.
Check out images from the Washington Redskins' defense in their 2017 Week 15 matchup against the Arizona Cardinals Dec. 17, 2017, at FedExField.
Spaight, who lost an aunt to cancer earlier in his life, took it upon himself to reach out to the young fan and create a memory that neither of them would soon forget. After talking with his father on the phone, Spaight left the Inova Sports Performance Center at Redskins Park in Loudoun County, Va., and drove two hours to surprise the young Redskins fan at his home in Pennsylvania.
"He spent three hours with our family and then two hours to drive home," Shorter said. "I mean, what an awesome treat. What a blessing."
Spaight talked with him about what it takes to play in the NFL, and offered some tips to Isaiah, a wide receiver for the Warwick youth football league, on how to become a breakout star. Even though his condition could mean he never gets to play the sport again, Spaight remained optimistic.
"From what I heard he was a great receiver," Spaight said. "I told him I look forward to seeing his first catch as a Redskin. He's a big Redskins fan and I can't wait for him to pull through and keep playing."
During their conversation, Isaiah's parents told Spaight of all the ways the family and community had worked to support their son in his battle. Members in the community had begun wearing "Shorter Supporter" bands, athletic wrist bands emblazoned with Isaiah's favorite bible verse: Isaiah 41:10.
"We shared that with Martrell last night, and he just got this look on his face," said Nancy Shorter, Isaiah Shorter's mother. "He said, 'You're not going to believe this. I have that scripture tattooed on my arm.' The exact scripture that we used for encouragement and to uplift us, is the same scripture he had tattooed on his arm. That gave us all goosebumps."
A Gofundme page has been started to help Isaiah in his fight with brain cancer. Since the end of September, the page has raised more than $1,600.
"It was very heart-warming. It just felt great to be there," Spaight said. "It was a great feeling talking to him, seeing his spirits uplifted. It was an amazing feeling."