Aedan Wall passed away two weeks ago after a battle with cancer but not without a Christmas surprise from New York Jets player Calvin Pryor. It was an uplifting moment for the 19-year old lifelong Jets fan during his eight-month battle with cancer.
It wasn’t always this way, Aedan bed-bound and battling against a cancer that would start in his groin and eventually move throughout most of his upper body. He was a standout athlete at Christian Brothers Academy in central New Jersey, a gym rat who played football and rugby, wrestled and rowed in crew. If it was a physical activity, Aedan's brother Liam says Aedan was down for it.
He felt most at home in the gym, lifting and working out. Sadly, that would all change very quickly.
This past April, Aedan noticed a tumor in his groin and the diagnosis quickly came of alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma –“a very rare, aggressive form of the cancer” according to his brother. This form of sarcoma frequently grows in the head and neck regions but the bladder, as well as reproductive organs, is among the most common regions that alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma can form and grow.
Aedan met with a doctor at Sloan Kettering, and the best course of action was determined to be chemotherapy with the hope of shrinking the tumor, then surgery to follow to remove what was left. Chemotherapy and then radiation followed that.
The tumor did shrink, but any good news did not last long.
After complaints of back pain, an MRI revealed that the cancer had spread to Aedan's chest, abdomen, back and one of his arms. The diagnosis came one day before Thanksgiving and he elected to stay at Sloan for what would be palliative treatment to relieve his pain and help him through the difficult next few weeks.
The diagnosis was certain but Aedan would never waver. It just wasn’t in him to quit.
Football and family
As far as Liam can remember, he and his brother and his family have been Jets fans and they used to have season tickets back in the old Giants Stadium. They remained, in Liam’s words, “painfully loyal” even as they had to give up the season tickets once the team moved into MetLife Stadium.
Aedan would proudly wear his Jets pajamas around the hospital. Despite treatment, he didn’t miss a game. He kept up with the team, even during a difficult 2016 season.
As Aedan’s condition worsened, a family friend, Lindsey Schwartz, began to reach out to players and the organization via social media. She knew what the Jets meant to Aedan and was asking for a player to come visit him as he struggled through the final few weeks of his life. Jason Koeppel, founder of NYJetsFans.com, came across the messages from Schwartz on social media.
He personally reached out to one of the players, the second-year safety Pryor, and told him about Aedan’s condition.
On Christmas Day, Pryor called Liam and asked if he could stop by and meet Aedan for a visit. Liam, of course, said yes - as he couldn’t believe that a player would come, let alone on Christmas Day. A couple hours later Pryor arrived at Sloan and had to wait for Aedan, who wanted to brush his teeth and get changed to meet his special visitor. Pryor sat in the waiting room, the former first round pick not complaining at the delay. Finally, he got to meet Aedan, and the safety presented him with a pair of official gloves.
Koeppel also showed up with T-shirts and gear. Pryor signed everything in sight and then hung out with the family for 90 minutes on the afternoon of Christmas Day.
It was completely unexpected. The patient and the player forged a quick bond over sports and their mutual passion in the gym. They laughed, and they talked football.
“[Pryor] expressed how excited he was to meet Aedan and how he found so much inspiration from him," Liam said. "We showed him pictures and videos from Instagram and how much Aedan was able to deadlift (585 pounds) and [Pryor] couldn’t believe it, he was so impressed and told Aedan he liked his arms or as he called it, ‘His rock.’ Calvin was so humble throughout the whole visit. He sat with my family and me and talked about his 3-year-old daughter, gladly answered any questions about football we had, and just really enjoyed spending time with us.”
Pryor would leave and that night he followed Aedan on Instagram. A week later, he dedicated the Jets' Week 17 win over Buffalo to Aedan.
On Jan. 3, 2017, Aedan passed away, finally succumbing to cancer after a brave fight. Never once did he hang his head.
His family recalls him as quiet but loving, a giving person who wasn’t afraid to help others in need. His brother calls him a “strong person” who never became angry because of his diagnosis.
“He tried to protect everyone from his illness, he wanted everyone to have a positive attitude and remain strong for him," Liam said. "He never showed any signs of weakness and we believe this was to protect us, his family. He made sure [we knew] what was happening throughout his day, such as medications he was taking and any type of therapies he was having. Even though his body became weak, his mind was always sharp and strong. He found his passions early in life and really lived his life the way he wanted.
“He loved politics and even when he was feeling horrible he made sure to go out and vote because that was important to him. He was happy person and lived his life. He loved his cat, Mimi, and he just did what made him happy and enjoyed the little things in life. He will always be the strongest, smartest, most selfless person I will ever know.”