Carolina Panthers running back DeAngelo Williams lost his mom in May to breast cancer. He had watched her and her four sisters fight the disease most of his life.
"I grew up knowing the importance of breast cancer," Williams told WBTV anchor Molly Grantham, in the first on-camera interview he's had since her death. "It was a way of life for my family. And she still passed. But because she can no longer spread the message of prevention being the best early detection, I am now doing it for her. What ultimately got her was she found the disease a little too late."
DeAngelo's four aunts had all died from breast cancer by the year 2011. DeAngelo's mom, Sandra Hill, passed away on May 16, days after her 53rd birthday.
She had first been diagnosed in 2004. It came back in 2010.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Hill told Williams that she was going to be in Hospice care on May 6.
"And I was like 'so what does that mean?' and she said 'there's nothing else they can do'," Williams told WBTV, a media partner of the Observer.
He says his mom told him "I'm going to be fine. I'm just worried about you."
"My mom was the strongest woman I know," he said. "She had these tumors growing again since 2010 and never told us. She was fiercely protective. We saw her stomach growing, but thought it was side effects of the medicine. We had no idea how bad it had gotten because all she cared about was taking care of everyone else."
Hill told Williams that he needed to go back and be with his Panthers teammate because he was going to need their support when she was gone.
"I said 'No, I'm going to stay here with you' and she cried that night and said 'No, I really want you to go back'. She didn't want me to see the good the bad and the ugly," Williams said.
In 2009, DeAngelo started working with the NFL to turn it "pink" during the month of October.
"We're now pink because of her," he said. "My mom. I take pride in knowing the NFL is pink in October, sparking conversations everywhere about breast cancer and prevention, all in the spirit of my mom."
The 31-year-old NFL Panthers fan favorite has always been a huge advocate for the breast cancer cause. Since his mom's death it's even more public.
"What I try to get people to understand is it's a 365 day a year thing. Once October is over, the breast cancer doesn't go away," he said. "The sickness doesn't go away. The chemo doesn't go away. The hurt and pain that a family member feel, doesn't go away."
He has tweeted pictures of him getting a pink pedicure and before the first Panthers game two weeks ago, dyed his hair pink.
“I went in, I got it dyed pink, probably a 3-4 hour process. Kept it covered up Saturday then Sunday, let it go. (laughs)," he said. "I'm going to keep it all season. My daughter absolutely loves it. She says it's easier to find me in the crowd, she's 4, because she just looks for the pink hair."
He also helps co-host Komen Charlotte's "Race for the Cure" and has the largest team in the city, called "Williams Warriors". This year's Race is October 4th in Uptown Charlotte.
In past years, his mom has come in to be at the Race with him. He says she was always a huge supporter of both his career and his push to help raise money to find a cure for breast cancer.
He says at one point after Hill's death, he sat there thinking 'what would my mom tell me to do?'
“All the arguments, you just wish you could take back. I'm starting to get emotional," he said. "In the course of it you're like 'Well, I'll always have time for that forgiveness. You know you sit back, and that's mostly what I talked to her about that day."
“I want people to understand that they're not by themselves," Williams said. "I want everyone to know there is always someone there for you. You're not going through this by yourself."
That's how his mom was. That's how she lived her life. Talked with strangers about breast cancer.
"There's not just negative things going on in the world. Nobody is just going to pass you by, like there's people here for you that don't even know you. And I just wanted to spread that love."
"I'm going to miss her there this year," he said. "That's a hard thought. Also really hard to know she won't be at games this October when everything is so pink."
Since 2009, "Williams Warriors" has raised over $211,000 for Komen Charlotte.
"For many years my mom was kinda that driving force. She was that rock," Williams said. "And with her being gone, I don't want people to think that hope left with her. No. She just passed it along."
So does DeAngelo feel like he's making a difference in the cause?
"I do, then sometimes I don't," he said. "Reason I say sometimes I don't is I don't ever feel like I do enough."
WBTV is a media partner of The Observer