GOSHEN -- Gale Sayers had a message to deliver to those who beat cancer. But he also had a message for those who helped those individuals beat it.
Sayers, a Hall of Fame former running back with the Chicago Bears, was the keynote speaker Sunday at Goshen Health System's sixth annual True Celebration event.
The ceremony brings together cancer survivors and their friends and family, honoring those who triumphed over the disease -- and the odds.
Sayers said he wanted to remind cancer patients' caregivers that they are important, as well. Too often, he said, supporters remain focused on caring for the individual with cancer, and don't tend to themselves.
"You do such a good job doing that," he said, "You forget you need to be healthy to take care of these people."
Sayers' career in the NFL was short, but spectacular. Drafted in 1965, he set a number of impressive league records, including his 22-touchdown rookie season. He is also well known, though, for his relationship with Brian Piccolo, a Bears teammate.
Piccolo died of cancer in 1970, an ordeal Sayers wrote about in his 1971 book "I Am Third." That account was the basis of an acclaimed TV movie, "Brian's Song," featuring Billy Dee Williams as Sayers.
What's not as well known, Sayers said, is that he also lost his mother to cancer just six months after Piccolo's death. Sayer became emotional when speaking about the loss of the two loved ones, pausing and taking a few deep breaths before discussing their impact.
"We can't get those loved ones back," he said, "but in their honor we can do all we can to take care of ourselves and our families."
The ceremony, held in the Sauder Music Hall on the Goshen College campus, also featured comments from GHS executives and doctors and a musical performance by two GC students.
Sayers retired in 1971 after sustaining several knee injuries, but became the youngest member inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He now resides in Wakarusa, running an information technology company and remaining active in several philanthropic efforts.
The four-time Pro Bowl selection said those who have beaten cancer are nothing short of inspiring. He encouraged them to remain energetic and vigorous, seizing each day.
"I see survivors who stand before us," he said, "as a testament to the fact that while cancer is frightening, it can be defeated."