ELKHART — Indianapolis Colts player Nathan Palmer knows a thing or two about strength on the field, so when he made a surprise visit to Elkhart on Tuesday, July 23, he had a very special message for a local girl battling cancer: “Keep fighting. Stay strong.”
The 24-year-old wide receiver from Elkhart surprised 15-year-old Sarah Crane at the Lerner Theatre wearing a royal purple T-shirt with the words “Sarah Strong.”
Sarah, a student at Elkhart Memorial High School, had surgery two weeks ago to remove a tennis ball-sized tumor, and a week later, she was diagnosed with cancer. Doctors at South Bend Memorial Hospital told Sarah and her family that she is the youngest patient in the country with stage four colon cancer.
“You’re going to be strong, and I’m going to be strong,” Palmer told Sarah.
Palmer had two football coaches who were treated for cancer, an experience that brought the team together.
“I want Sarah to know that there are a lot of people out there like her who have battled cancer, and like my coaches, both of them were diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, and both were life-threatening,” Palmer said. “Some people said neither one of them would make it, and to this day, they’re still coaching and they’re still going strong. I want her to know she can fight this. She is a very strong young lady.”
Sarah’s sisters, Kylee, Allyson and Jenna, said they hope Palmer’s visit lifted her spirits.
“We all grew up watching football, so we’re all huge Colts fans,” Kylee said. “I think the support in general has helped her, but seeing someone like that take time out of his day to come and wish her luck, that will definitely give her more of a stronger attitude.”
Sarah and Palmer autographed each other’s shirts and even made plans to meet again at a Colts game.
“It was amazing,” Sarah said about meeting Palmer. “He’s really nice and such a caring person. It’s amazing that he took time just to come see me. I’m just glad everyone put this together. I have such amazing friends and family that care for me.”
Sarah’s friends and family have sold more than 500 purple “Sarah Strong” shirts as a fundraiser for the Crane family.
“When we first found out that Sarah had cancer, the first thing we thought about is how we can help,” said Sherry Auker, a long-time family friend who works with Sarah’s mother at Cleveland Elementary School. “We wanted to do something tangible that could help her parents, Julie and Dean, with expenses because they will be traveling for Sarah’s treatments. Once word got out at Cleveland Elementary, I think just about everybody on staff wanted one.”
Auker is selling the shirts in all sizes for $15 each, and she can be contacted at email@example.com.
This week, Sarah will be headed to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, where doctors will evaluate her condition and determine the next step in her treatment.
“Sarah is someone with determination there all the time,” said Sally Faus, Sarah’s grandmother. “She sets goals and works toward them. She’s a fighter.”