The inside story of Tom Brady and a young boy who beat brain cancer

·7 min read

On Sunday, as Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers trounced the Chicago Bears at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, a young boy in the stands held up a poster that invited curiosity.

“Tom Brady Helped Me Beat Brain Cancer," it read.

Brady has more touchdown passes (600), victories (236), Super Bowl rings (seven) and Super Bowl MVP awards (five) than any quarterback in NFL history.

But help a boy beat brain cancer?

How?

The answer began to unfold in March outside a two-story, stucco house with a well-kept lawn in Highland, Utah.

A 9-year-old boy and his mother sat in a car parked in the driveway.

They were crying.

Tom Brady hands a hat to Noah Reeb and his father during Sunday's game in Tampa.
Tom Brady hands a hat to Noah Reeb and his father during Sunday's game in Tampa.

Noah Reeb was feeling depressed a few days after undergoing brain surgery for a cancerous tumor. His mother, Jacque Reeb, had endured brain surgery five years earlier for Chiari malformation, a condition in which brain tissue extends into the spinal canal and can create severe pain.

Fully recovered, Jacque Reeb used that moment in the car to talk to Noah about mental toughness and adversity and at one point, she later recalled, she checked her phone and discovered something odd.

It was a text message from a blocked number that contained a video.

She played the video.

“Noah, look at this!"

It was Tom Brady.

“Hey, Noah, how you doing?" Brady began in the video. “I just wanted to let you know that I’m thinking about you.

“I know you’re one of my biggest fans in Utah, and I know you've got a great family that loves you. … I just want to let you know I’m thinking about you, I’m with you, my thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

“And hang tough. You’re gonna be great. I know it."

Noah, who had been diagnosed with brain cancer the month before, and his mother were no longer crying. They were sobbing. Then laughing. Absorbing a moment that felt surreal.

It materialized thanks largely to the family’s relationship with Todd Heap, a retired NFL tight end. Heap contacted an NFL employee who got the information to Brady.

About two weeks later, the video was sent to Jacque Reeb, who along with the rest of the Reeb family, wanted to thank the quarterback they knew they could not reach directly. So Jacque – short for Jacquelyn and pronounced "Jackie'' – posted the video on her Instagram account. Her comment included words directed at Brady.

“You’re the greatest,” she wrote. “You just relit a big fire of courage in this little boy’s cancer fight.’’

Noah watched the video every day.

“It made me feel amazing,’’ Noah, now 10, said during a recent phone interview with USA TODAY Sports this week. “I watched it in the hospital. I watched it when I was sad. Or when I was having panic attacks. I’d watch it whenever I was feeling down.

“It just helped me a lot, and I was so grateful."

Over five months, Noah's medical ordeal included having a needle inserted through the top of his head to drain fluid that the tumor was blocking and relieve pressure that was causing migraines; a craniotomy, the temporary removal of bone from the skull that allowed surgeons to remove the tumor; and, having a port Noah nicknamed "Dave" surgically inserted into this chest in order to read his blood counts after chemotherapy and radiation.

In June, Noah was declared cancer free.

There were so many people to thank, starting with the doctors and nurses at Huntsman Cancer Institute and Primary Children's Hospital in Salt Lake City, where Noah had multiple surgeries and several rounds of chemotherapy and radiation.

There were many friends and family members, including a few who helped watch Noah’s two sisters – Maxine, 12, and Scarlett, 7 – when Noah’s parents were preoccupied with helping Noah get through his medical ordeal.

There were his football coaches and teammates, with Noah having played flag football after he’d lost all of his hair and even on days when he had chemotherapy or radiation before games.

There was Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young and members of the BYU football team – all of whom contacted Noah and offered support, thanks to friends of the Reeb family.

Then there was Tom Brady.

“When Noah was 5 or 6, he came to me and he said, ‘Dad, who’s the best quarterback?’ ” said Noah’s father, James.

Tom Brady, he told his football-loving son.

“Ever since my dad told me who the greatest quarterback is, I really just like to follow Tom Brady, and he’s been my favorite player,’’ Noah said. “He’s like awesome on and off the field.’’

The story does not end with the video, though.

The Make-A-Wish Foundation contacted the Reeb family in mid-March and said Noah was a candidate for a wish. Noah said he wanted to meet Tom Brady. Later he was told his wish could not be fulfilled.

So Noah’s mother promised to take him to Tampa at some point to watch the Buccaneers play and, who knows, maybe even meet Tom Brady. Oct. 24 became the target date, and that week, Noah’s mother was feeling ill.

James Reeb suggested rescheduling the trip. Absolutely not, said Jacque Reeb.

“She had a feeling,’’ James Reeb said. “She was like, ‘He has to go to this game.’ I was like, let’s push to November 22 when they play the Giants. And she was like, ‘No, it has to be this game. It’s going to happen. Trust me.’

The Reeb family, from left: Mother, Jacque; Noah; father, James; older sister, Maxine; and younger sister, Scarlett.
The Reeb family, from left: Mother, Jacque; Noah; father, James; older sister, Maxine; and younger sister, Scarlett.

“And then she’s like, ‘I can’t go if I’m not feeling well because I promise you, Tom’s going to reach out to Noah somehow and I don’t want to be sick.’ So she didn’t come.’’

But Jacque Reeb found a pair of third-row tickets behind the Bucs’ bench, and James Reeb agreed to the price of about $1,400.

After Noah’s flag-football team won its first-round playoff game on Saturday, Dad and son flew to Tampa, arrived at their hotel and the next morning executed the plan: They made the “Tom Brady Helped Me Beat Brain Cancer’’ sign that they thought would be their best chance to catch Brady’s eye.

In the fourth quarter, as the stadium began to clear out, Noah and his father moved to the front row. And in the final minutes of Tampa Bay’s 38-3 victory over Chicago, Bucs wide receiver Chris Godwin saw Noah and the poster and alerted Brady.

The legendary quarterback grabbed a gray Bucs cap and walked toward Noah. As the final seconds ticked off the clock, Brady reached up and put the cap on Noah’s head and shook his hand.

With tears pouring down his face, Noah thanked Tom Brady.

Upon inspection, James Reeb noticed on the back of the cap was a logo patch that reads, "Crucial Catch. Intercept Cancer.''

Brady, while meeting with the news media after the game, spoke about the interaction with Noah.

“That was really sweet,’’ he said, “Obviously a tough kid, man. It puts a lot into perspective of what we’re doing on the field. In the end, it doesn’t mean much, compared to what people go through.

"We all try to make a difference in different ways.”

The tough kid broke down in tears again the next day.

After sharing details of his moment with Brady – “I saw him walking over and I was just crying so hard,’’ Noah said. “I was in shock.'' – he hoped his story would make people feel good.

Soon came the sobs.

“He knows that Tom Brady’s not God,’’ Noah's father said. “But he does recognize, in my opinion, what I would say are God-like things. Like generosity, kindness, consideration, openness, conscientiousness.

“These kinds of things, I think he observes. I think that’s part of the connection. …

“We’ve been asked, ‘Well, did Tom save your son’s life?’ And it’s like, ‘Well, he helped Noah get through cancer.’ ”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Tom Brady helped a boy beat brain cancer, but what did Bucs QB do?

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