Sione Takitaki knows how hard it can be to maintain positivity throughout the uncertain, difficult battle against cancer.
When Takitaki was 14, he watched as his father, Vaimaua, went through the battle himself with adenocarcinoma and metastasis forms of cancer. Vaimaua passed away after a seven-month fight, which devastated Takitaki, the youngest of seven siblings.
"My father, just like all fathers, was the glue to the family," Takitaki said. "My dad was a great man who taught me great values and how to be a good person. Going through that time and just thinking back, it was devastating. It took my family a while to bounce back from that because of what he meant to all of us."
Takitaki leaned on his big family to push ahead together and accomplish things in their lives that would make his father proud. The "man of the house" was gone for the Takitaki family, but he raised them to fight through adversity — no matter what size or form it came in.
For Takitaki, a third-year linebacker for the Browns, forging a path to the NFL was his way of achieving that, and now he's committed to using his platform to help bring positivity to others fighting similar battles as his father.
Takitaki is one of several Browns players frequently looking to make a difference in the worldwide fight against cancer. Last week, he and defensive end Myles Garrett made virtual visits to University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center and UH Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital, where they spoke to cancer patients and spent time getting to know them — as well as answering any questions they had about football.
"I'm just trying to be a light to them with all the heartache they're going through," he said. "Their stories hit home for me, and I know the effects cancer can have. I'm just trying to be a light and bring some spark in their life."
Takitaki previously made strides toward representing those fighting cancer by wearing a special pair of cleats for the NFL's "My Cause My Cleats" campaign in 2020. The cleats were blue and red and honored "The Littles Heroes" pediatric cancer foundation with their logo on one shoe and name on another. Takitaki and his wife, Alyssa, also made a donation to the foundation during the holiday season.
Takitaki said he's working on starting his own foundation for cancer patients and also plans on wearing another pair of special cleats for "My Cause My Cleats" week later this season.
"I want to help the families who are less fortunate," he said. "I feel like I came from a less fortunate family myself because when my father found out about his cancer, we couldn't do the chemotherapy — we just didn't have the money for it. I feel like this is my chance to give back to the world with all the goodness I feel I've been blessed with, so I want to give back to less fortunate families who are struggling and need a little bump in motivation."
Takitaki is achieving that in a big way Sunday as the Browns celebrate "Crucial Catch: Intercept Cancer" week for their home game against the Arizona Cardinals at FirstEnergy Stadium. He delivered a video message Friday to one patient he spoke with last week who expressed a deep fandom in the Browns and connected with Takitaki over their interests in hop-hop music.
"One of these days, you're going to have to make it to a Browns game," Takitaki told him.
"It's been a long time since I've been able to go to one," said the patient, who was a double amputee and spoke to Takitaki as he laid in his bed. "I'd love to make it to one."
"Well," Takitaki said, "once you're all right and ready to go, reach out and I'll definitely get you right."
That arrangement is happening Sunday.
For Takitaki, the gesture is a small but proud task he knows will uplift his new friend during a crucial time.
"I can't wait to see him," he said. "I just wanted to give these people some hope and happiness. If I can give them some motivation or some happiness or joy, I feel like I did my job and I gave back a little bit."
Takitaki hopes to do the same for even more people in the future. It's how he carries the significance of his father with him as he lives his NFL dream, and it's one way he's been able to turn a turbulent period of his life into a positive one for others who need one most.
"That time with those patients can really be a great thing with them," he said. "I know the effects it can have, and it makes me happy to be a spark in their life."