Elgin cancer patient unfurls 'Bear Down' flag at Chicago Bears game

Advocate Health Care cancer patient Jason Hamlet was recognized as the Chicago Bears' special guest during the "Bear Down" flag ceremony Dec. 10 before the Bears took on the Detroit Lions at Soldier Field.

Advocate and the Bears invited Jason, an Elgin resident and a patient at Advocate Sherman Hospital, to help unfurl the giant flag on the field during pregame introductions and participate in additional pregame activities. He was joined on the field by his fiancé, Lisa Rippa, before enjoying the game from the stands.

Hamlet, 53, has been battling a rare, highly aggressive non-Hodgkin lymphoma cancer (primary central nervous system lymphoma) in his brain for the last 18 months. It all started last summer when Jason started experiencing a change in mood. He felt unhappy and started losing weight. Jason had planned to go into the doctor after his birthday for a checkup.

Then, after a couple of accidental falls, he went to the emergency room, and after ruling out a stroke he was sent for an MRI. A biopsy confirmed the primary central nervous system lymphoma diagnosis.

Initially, he had a 38-day stay in the hospital to start chemo. After his chemo rounds were complete the MRI showed the cancer had shrunk and he rang the bell to celebrate.

Just a month later, Jason returned to Sherman with migraine pain and, unfortunately, a biopsy showed that his cancer was back. He immediately started chemo again, but this time at a higher dosage. Jason completed his chemo on Sunday, Nov. 4.

His oncologist, Dr. Veerpal Singh, recommended Jason undergo a stem cell transplant as his best chance for remission rather than continue chemo after this round. Jason was not sold on this since stem cell transplants are challenging and painful, but trusted his care team and agreed with the procedure.

When talking with Jason, you'd never know he was battling cancer.

On the oncology unit, Jason has a reputation for having a positive attitude and serves as a bright light for the nursing team.

So much so, that when he comes to stay on the unit for his chemo treatment - which can take five days for each round - the nurses set him up with a TV that allows him to hook up his Xbox and play his games while he is waiting for tests or for his chemo.

"It was hard to do at first, but I've tried to have a positive mental attitude ever since about a week after my initial diagnosis," Hamlet said. "If I could tell someone in my shoes being diagnosed with this cancer, one thing I would say is, 'stay positive, stay positive, stay positive.' Don't get down on yourself because once you do, you can get so depressed and I've felt that at times. What it boiled down to for me is my attitude.

"But thank you so much to Advocate and the Bears for this unbelievable experience today. My fiancé and I had the time of our lives."

Jason will now continue his fight, and hopes to soon receive another crack at ringing that cancer free bell.

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