‘I love you, son’
The course of Tyler Lancaster’s life irreversibly changed with a short voicemail from his father days after Northwestern beat No. 23 Pittsburgh in the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium.
Brad, Bonnie and Hannah all made the trip to New York. A lifelong fan of the Beatles, Brad took a photo with the famous “Imagine” mosaic in the Strawberry Field section of Central Park. To cap off the impromptu vacation, Tyler had two tackles and recovered a fumble in the Wildcats’ 31-24 victory.
Brad, never one to complain about anything, had been feeling discomfort in his jaw for a couple months at this point. He shrugged it off as nothing more than a toothache, but the pain became unbearable in New York and Brad agreed to go in once they returned home.
It led Brad to leaving a voicemail on his son’s phone that Tyler will never forget.
“Hey Tyler, I don’t want to scare you but they pulled the tooth and they just wanted to get a biopsy of it. No big deal just wanted to let you know. I love you, son, and I’ll talk to you later.”
Tyler didn’t know what that meant. He scrambled to look up what it could mean and got a cold shiver up his spine. Shortly thereafter, the biopsy came back as Stage 4 oral cancer that started in his jaw and had already metastasized into his neck.
“I was like, ‘Damn it,’” Tyler said. “The thing is, he smoked since he was a little kid. So we were hoping for the best, but accepting the worst and unfortunately the worst is what happened.”
Brad didn’t want his diagnosis to be a distraction to Tyler heading into his final season at Northwestern. He and Bonnie tried their best to protect their children from it, but the first surgery to remove the tumor greatly affected Brad’s speech.
Looking to give him a boost in morale, Tyler asked Brad, “If there’s one thing I could get you, what would it be?” Brad’s reply was a Northwestern football helmet.
The Wildcats did the Lancasters one better – they had the entire football team sign a helmet, offense in purple and defense in black, with Tyler’s signature right in front with the inscription “Go Cats!”
Tyler and Hannah surprised Brad with the helmet on Father’s Day by having Hannah initially pretend to give him a hug before handing Brad his real present instead. He was euphoric.
“I thought he was going to pass out,” said Bonnie, who later posted the video on social media at Tyler’s behest.