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Why I'm a Bandwagon Carolina Panthers Fan (Yes, I'm One for Good Reason)

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I’ll proudly admit, I’m a bandwagon Carolina Panthers fan. But I think we’d all agree I have good reason to be pulling for the Panthers and tight end Greg Olsen.

He’s not just a Pro Bowl, Super Bowl-bound professional football player. He’s not just a nominee for the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year Award. He’s not just a loving father. He’s not just the parent of a child born with a rare heart defect who has navigated the health care system treatment after treatment. He’s not just the founder of a nonprofit organization, Receptions For Research (R4R): The Greg Olsen Foundation, that provides resources to enhance the lives of those affected by cancer and cardiovascular diseases or disorders.

Greg Olsen is also someone who understands something as simple as holding up a scarf in support of another child and family facing medical crisis can make a world of a difference, if even for just a moment. That this show of support can bring a smile, warm the heart, and help make you feel like you are not alone, but on a team.

That was us last October when we received this photograph of Greg Olsen holding up a #LukaTheLion scarf in support of our son who fought bravely his entire life.

Greg Olsen holding a Luka The Lion scarf

Born with a rare primary immunodeficiency disease thought to be unique to him, Luka endured 10 hospitalizations, a bone marrow transplant and several complications — one of which was life-ending. In October, we didn’t know where Luka’s story was taking us, as his medical condition continued to deteriorate despite a “full court press” of treatments, dedication and love from his doctors and nurses at UNC NC Children’s Hospital. It all feels like a lifetime ago. It was.

I’ll admit, in October I didn’t know who Greg Olsen was. I didn’t know the Panthers were undefeated at that point in the season. All I knew is my son was — yet again — in the hospital. But this time Luka wasn’t able to be himself due to the HHV6 virus and significant auto-inflammatory complications including encephalitis (swelling of the brain). As a result, Luka’s condition had gotten so concerning that the bubbly, sweet, smart and smiling boy we knew his entire life despite constant medical needs — just wasn’t accessible. For two months, it made each second, minute, hour and day a challenge to say the least.

As Luka’s primary caregiver and someone who was with him every single day and night, my goal was to give Luka all the love, support and encouragement he needed so much, and with a smile. I was his cheerleader, his coach, his teammate. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t easy. Both myself and my husband needed support from the sidelines, too. That’s why this photo of Greg Olsen, supporting our #LukaTheLion — sustained us. Taped up to our hospital room bathroom door, this photo reminded me someone else has been and is a parent, holding vigil at their child’s bedside in a hospital room, who has probably had those same thoughts of feeling lonely and isolated — not knowing where the story would go at any moment. And just by holding up a scarf and taking a photo of support — it can really make you not feel like you are not alone and that there’s a fan club cheering you on, too. You feel part of a team.

That’s why I’m not ashamed to be the loudest cheerleader on the bandwagon of the Carolina Panthers and Greg Olsen this football season, during the Super Bowl 50, and always. Greg Olsen supported us when we needed to know that someone was in our corner, on our team cheering on our #LukaTheLion. Now, in Luka’s honor, we’re here to support Greg Olsen just the same for his foundation, Receptions For Research, and for his team in Sunday’s big game.

Not just for my family, but for all of the patients and families he’s helped along the way — either through his foundation or just holding up a scarf — Greg Olsen is already a winner in our hearts. We’re proud to be on his team.

Luka sitting in front of a LukaTheLion Jersey

In loving memory of our son, Luka Fisher, a brave and resilient little lion who in just 21 months taught us to always remember to roar. We’re proud to start a movement in his name, the #LukaTheLion Foundation, to honor Luka’s spirit by raising awareness of rare pediatric diseases and supporting patients and their families so they never feel alone.

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Originally published: February 6, 2016
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