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Thomas saw battle first-hand

Posted Sep 30, 2010

While he was preparing for a wedding and his first season in the NFL, three-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman Joe Thomas watched his future mother-in-law battle breast cancer.

The end of the 2006 season and beginning of 2007 was a whirlwind for Joe Thomas.

Then a senior at the University of Wisconsin, Thomas blocked for Badgers quarterback John Stocco and cleared holes for running back P.J. Hill, so well that his stock continued to rise among NFL scouts. Behind Thomas, Stocco passed for 2,185 yards and 17 touchdowns against six interceptions, while Hill gained 1,569 yards on the ground, averaged 5.0 yards-per-rush and scored 15 touchdowns.

Once his All-American and Outland Trophy-winning season was complete, Thomas began pre-Draft workouts, scheduled visits with teams and participated in The NFL Scouting Combine. After the Browns took Thomas with the No. 3 overall pick in 2007, he got to work during the team’s rookie mini-camp, Organized Team Activities and veteran mini-camp. In July, mere weeks before his first NFL training camp, Thomas married his fiancée, Annie.

While Thomas was going through the rigorous NFL pre-Draft process, it paled in comparison to what his future mother-in-law, Judy Nelson, was going through at the time. Nelson was fighting for her life after discovering she had breast cancer.

“It was pretty incredible. She got diagnosed three or four months before our wedding and she was able to hold off on the chemotherapy until after,” Thomas said. “To be able to see somebody go through that, go through the chemotherapy, lose their hair and come back better than ever is really an awesome experience. You can draw a little bit from that, her strength and her courage in the face of cancer.

“She had breast cancer about three or so years ago and is now in remission, doing really well,” he continued. “She ran with my wife in the Race for the Cure. It has affected me in some respect.”

Even before Nelson’s diagnosis, Thomas was active in the community. He was named a finalist for The Wuerffel Trophy for Community Service during his days at Wisconsin, an award named after 1996 Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel.

However, since the ordeal, Joe and Annie have made a conscious effort to support the cause of breast cancer awareness. Getting to meet other people who have gone through battles with breast cancer has been an inspiration to Thomas.

“It’s really important to Annie because her mother was affected by it,” Thomas said. “Just going out in the community and running the Race is how she supports it. There have been a few times at practice where some of the survivors and we’ve gotten to meet them. It’s been a pretty neat experience.”

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