‘We’re going to fight this’
KANSAS CITY, Mo., -- Father and son football trips are nothing new for Matt Lewis and his 16-year-old son, Jayden.
Long ones, too.
They live in Billings, Mont., but do you think that has ever stopped them from making the nearly 13-hour roundtrip to War Memorial Stadium on fall Saturdays?
Not a chance.
They even attend eight to 10 basketball games in Laramie every year.
For these two, it's about the journey. The memories. The sights, smells, and yes, Cowboys victories.
What is new for this duo is the cancer diagnosis Jayden received in November of 2019. Yes, that was more than two years ago. No, it will never be fully accepted as truth, though both know it very much is.
Sports are now viewed as the ultimate escape.
Nearly two weeks ago, Jayden was lying in a Salt Lake City hospital bed, crude stitches piercing his young, fragile back. He just underwent surgery on his right lung. It was a checkup, in the harshest form possible, Jayden's fourth procedure since he received that lifechanging news.
Today, Jayden, his father and uncle Jeff Lewis have set up camp inside a Kansas City hotel room. Matt is jokingly urging Jayden to leap onto the bed inside their room. It's for practice purposes.
Tomorrow, he's going to be joining an exclusive club inside the parking lot outside Arrowhead Stadium -- the Bills Mafia.
"I've been trying to get him to jump off the TV stand," Matt joked, referring to the Buffalo pastime of crashing through tables at Bills tailgate parties.
Lifelong Denver Broncos fans, like so many in the Rocky Mountain region, the Lewis family has switched allegiances to the team based in western New York. Also, like so many in this area have -- because of one man, Josh Allen.
That is the easy explanation for this pilgrimage to the Midwest, and it's not a lie, but reality is these two are planning on living life to the fullest, diagnosis be damned.
Tomorrow isn't guaranteed for any of us, but not much can prepare a person -- a father -- to hear these grave words from a sympathetic doctor: "Take your son home and love him -- let it play out."
"The word cancer, it takes you a lot of dark, deep places," an emotional Matt said over a grainy Zoom call. "You know, to be honest with you, I still wake up a lot of times at night and go in his room and make sure he's still alive. It's been so hard."
Jayden is thin and has a shaven head under his black Bills' cap. He's pale and frail. His spirit, well, let's just say that's the opposite. He's a young man of few words, but his smile, ever present, shows strength, resolve and excitement.
In less than 24 hours Jayden will get to watch his hero run onto the field and possibly lift the Bills to a Super Bowl berth.
"It takes my mind off of it," he said, it, of course, being the c-word. "I'm really excited."
When asked about his first memories of Allen, Jayden quickly pointed to the Boise State game in 2016. That trademark smile creased his face once again. He was in attendance to watch Wyoming's gunslinger carve up the No. 13 Broncos to the tune of 274 yards passing and three touchdowns. The Cowboys pulled off the 30-28 upset that chilly night in Laramie.
Allen's laser passes, 70-yard bombs and thrilling runs excite Jayden, but after his diagnosis, it's the quarterback's work off the field that appeals to him most.
The Lewis family admires his charity work. The way Allen hasn't changed since his humble, early days in Laramie as a no-name player with just two scholarship offers to his name. He never forgot his roots.
"Jayden would like to emulate or replicate how Josh has been to people," Matt said. "He's very giving with his time and, you know, his help for the community in Buffalo. I'm sure it trickles down to other things that we don't see. I like to have that role model for him.
"Beyond the football part of it, and the athletic part of it, he's just a good person. I appreciate that kind of role model."
Originally from Lovell, Matt said Allen has been truly symbolic of his home state. His toughness and grace among many other attributes, are all qualities he considers when he thinks of home.
It's the way he views his son, too.
"I'll tell him this in front of you, I think Jayden is a great representation of Wyoming," he said. "He's solid, strong and resilient like the people are in Wyoming. I'm so proud."
The truth of the matter is, Jayden still has a long road ahead. Doctors are still deciding if they need to amputate his left leg. His hip area is where this nightmare all stemmed from. Once thought to be a simple football injury, they now know it is anything but that.
There have been no school dances for Jayden. No playing sports, dating or any other normalcy for a teenager. Thanks to COVID-19, he's had limited to no contact with friends, either.
Matt spends his free time reading books, learning long, drawn-out medical terms he never dreamed of knowing in the first place. He also buries himself in self-help literature. Most have to do with lifting the spirits of those who need it most.
Some days, that's him.
The tears that well up in his eyes and the cracking of the voice showcases his pain. He doesn't even to try and hide it these days. He's scared. Better yet, terrified.
"For me, as a parent, from my point of view to see your kids suffer day in and day out, that's tough, man," Matt said. "That puts you in a really tough situation. But, I'm so thankful. With our faith in God and our family, we're just going to keep fighting."
Jayden, on the other hand, seems to be taking it in stride. There's not much else he can do.
"I mean, it's going to be what it's going to be," Jayden said when asked if he's scared. "I mean, but you have to enjoy every day, right?"
The Lewis's will be three of roughly 16,000 fans allowed through the turnstiles for tomorrow night's AFC Championship game in KC. How's that for enjoying a day?
While Jayden will undoubtedly have his eyes glued on No. 17 in white, Matt knows he will take plenty of time to observe his son taking in the moment. Maybe it will be like old times? A father and son simply enjoying a football game together, watching Allen lead his team to victory.
In reality, that would just be icing on the cake.
Being there is the true gift.
"We're not going to live in fear," a teary eyed Matt said. "We're going to keep living -- that's why we're here. That's why we're not sitting around, healing up. We're going to fight this. We're going to keep pushing through."