UPTOWN — On the eve of a big game that could clinch the first playoff spot in her team's history, Chicago Sky forward Tamera Young was at a hospital in Uptown boosting the morale of folks facing far bigger struggles.
On Thursday, the WNBA player walked through Weiss Memorial Hospital's Hematology/Oncology wing and visited patients with cancer and blood-related disorders. Like her role coming off the bench as an energetic defensive stopper for the Sky, Young's visit at Weiss was about providing the little things, something the six-year veteran forward understands can go a long way.
A pink ribbon spelling "Hope," is tattooed on her forearm in honor of two loved ones who suffered from cancer. When Young was 9 years old, her grandmother Massie Young died from breast cancer. And when she was a junior at James Madison University, her aunt Patricia Nichols, now a survivor, was diagnosed with the same condition.
"When people are going through tough times, it's always a better feeling to have somebody come in and encourage you and bring positive energy," said Young, 26, the Sky’s spokeswoman for Friday's Breast Health Awareness Game against the New York Liberty.
"Having my grandmother who passed from [cancer] and my aunt as a survivor, being around people I love and seeing them through the process, it makes me want to go out and help encourage other people to be positive about it."
Roscoe Village resident Josef Djurkowitsh, 82, was diagnosed with lymphoma eight years ago. He was at the hospital at 4646 N. Marine Dr. for treatment Thursday afternoon when Young showed up. She surprised him with an autograph, a quick chat about their shared love of athletics (he admits he's more of a soccer guy) and a smile that he returned throughout their time together.
"I think it's a real class act, no doubt about it," a Djurkowitsh said about the visit, beaming.
Young visited several other cancer patients who were pleasantly surprised to see her and happy to get an autograph and chat a bit.
She also put a smile on the face of another patient at the hospital, one who doesn't have cancer but still suffers from a debilitating illness that keeps her "tied to the hospital," and struggling to keep her spirits up amid treatment.
Sarah Lane, 62, was in the Hematology/Oncology wing, hooked up to an IV when Young walked in and brightened her day. Lane was born with Bartter Syndrome, a kidney disorder characterized, particularly in her case, by a lack of potassium in the blood, "which can result in muscle weakness, cramping, and fatigue," according to the National Institutes of Health.
"This has really brought a smile to my face, something so simple," said Lane, an Edgewater resident whose condition has worsened since last year. "I weighed 210 pounds in October. I weigh 133 pounds now. But I stay positive ... it's all about a positive attitude."
As Young and her aunt, a survivor of breast cancer herself, posed with Lane for pictures and Young left the woman with an autograph, Lane said "this is so cool," and joked that "my husband is going to be jealous."
So Young wrote her husband Joe an autograph as well.
"That brightens my day to know that kind words can brighten someone else's day," Young said afterward.
Lane is a WNBA fan who has been following the season and hopes Chicago comes out on top in Friday night's bout with the New York Liberty, a team the Eastern-Conference leading Sky have so far dominated this season. She was also excited that after seven losing seasons, the Sky appear headed for the playoffs for the first time in team history.
Young said that, "Us being able to accomplish that would be a great feeling."
"Of course, it would be history in the making," Young said. "To finally be able to achieve that goal would be a big accomplishment."
Young said Friday's clash with New York "is a statement game." Communicating on defense and stopping the Liberty's transition attack are keys to the Sky winning Friday, she said.
"We are in first and we want to keep it that way. Of course, New York is a great team, they're also fighting for a spot in the playoffs, so we're both fighting," Young said. "I think it's going to be a big game for them as well as us, so it's going to be the team that grinds it out the most."