As he battled brain cancer in the hospital, videos of Tom Brady cheered him up more than anything. He dreamed of watching the NFL quarterback in person, but he never imagined he’d catch Brady’s attention from among the crowd.
When 10-year-old Noah Reeb walked into Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, on Sunday to watch his first-ever NFL game, he immediately felt he might cry. This was a day he had waited months for. It was the fulfillment of a promise made as he lay in a hospital bed, fighting to overcome brain cancer. With his disease now in remission, Noah had gotten to this point relying on his family and their faith in God, along with a little help from his hero, Tom Brady—football’s “Greatest Of All Time” (GOAT).
A Journey of Faith
Noah started getting severe migraines in December 2020, and he soon received a brain cancer diagnosis. Months of treatment followed, with emotional valleys punctuated by spiritual peaks. During that time, says Noah’s mother, Jacque, “We had to just keep relying on the Lord, because there were really scary times where we didn’t know what kind of tumor he had or if it was even curable.”
Many nights in the hospital, Jacque sat at Noah’s bedside, their foreheads pressed together as they sang “I Am a Child of God” while pleading for comfort and help. Noah’s father, James, says fighting cancer “helped us to face our faith in a way that we couldn’t have before, … as much as we thought we knew what our faith was, and how it worked, … and what it could do.”
After one particularly difficult surgery, Noah’s parents and hospital staff offered everything they could think of to raise the boy’s spirits. “They had all these things for me to do that I just didn’t want to do,” says Noah. “Video games made me feel down, … I didn’t really care for stuffed animals.” But Noah knew exactly what he needed: “I said, ‘I just want to watch Tom Brady highlights.’” Once they got football clips of Noah’s idol playing on YouTube, Noah indeed felt better. Brady, starting quarterback from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, is widely considered to be the greatest quarterback of all time, with five Super Bowl MVP awards.
But Noah’s connection to Brady was about to go next-level. Jacque posted on Instagram about a “tender moment” that came after she and Noah arrived home from surgery. “Noah and I were in the car (still parked in our driveway) emotionally broken down, having a heart to heart about mental toughness through adversity,” Jacque’s post reads. Then her phone chimed. Noah recalls, “All of a sudden, this video message pops up, and it’s [from] an unknown number. And mom my plays it and was like, ‘Noah, look! It’s Tom Brady.”
Noah could hardly believe it, but the video was in fact from his hero. “Hey Noah, how are you doing?” Brady says in the message. “I know you’re one of my biggest fans in Utah, … and I just want to let you know I’m thinking about you, I’m with you. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. Hang tough. You’re going to be great; I know it. Get well soon and take care.”
After watching the message, Jacque says that she and Noah just sat in the driveway together, “laughing and crying, because we were like, ‘Could this have come at a better time?’” When things got really rough for Noah after that, the video was always there to cheer him up. “I’d have times when I was just feeling kind of sad and down that I had brain cancer, so I just watched the video to make me feel … pumped up. It made me feel really good,” Noah says.
A Dream Realized
As treatment dragged on for months, Noah’s parents promised him that when he came out on the other side, they’d take Noah to a Buccaneers game. Jacque promised: “I’m gonna get you to see Tom Brady in real life. … So if you can’t think about anything else while you’re suffering, think about that.” Noah held that promise close as he endured two brain surgeries, chemo, and radiation therapy.
Then last Sunday, with his cancer in remission, Noah’s dream was realized. With his dad, James, he walked into the Buccaneers game carrying a sign that read, “Tom Brady Helped Me Beat Brain Cancer.” “[They] had two tickets to a game and a sign, that all,” says Jacque. As they took their front-row seats on the sidelines and held up the homemade sign, Noah and James just wanted to show Brady how much they appreciated the strength that Brady’s message had given Noah.
With just 33 seconds left in the game, Noah’s sign got Brady’s attention. The quarterback walked to the sidelines, placed a baseball cap on the youngster’s head, and shook his hand. Noah then covered his face with his hands, and the tears that had been just under the surface all night began to flow.
Play of the Game: Not Tom Brady's No. 600.— Katherine Smith (@katsmithsports) October 25, 2021
How about this moment when he handed a hat to a little boy who held up a sign that read "Tom Brady helped me beat brain cancer"
This was better than any TD Brady has EVER throw @BN9 @SpecSports360
🎥 credit: Matt Infante pic.twitter.com/G9su6BWMHo
For James, it seemed fitting that Brady placed the cap on the head that had only recently ceased causing pain and worry for their family. “He reached up and he put it on Noah’s head,” says James. “I mean, talk about poetry for us.”
“With Dark Comes Light”
In a postgame press conference, Brady spoke about Noah: “That was really sweet. Obviously a tough kid, man. It puts a lot into perspective of what we’re doing on the field. In the end, it doesn’t mean much, compared to what so many people go through. We all try to make a difference in different ways.”
Brady later posted an image on Instagram that was tweeted by the Buccaneers. It was an image of Noah and his sign, along with these words: “The best part of everything I’ve achieved is being able to help kids like Noah. You inspire me more than anything!”
Reflecting on the joy of last Sunday, contrasted with the harrowing experiences of the past year, James says he’s learned that when the light of faith is cast on everyday objects, it can transform what one sees. “You can look at a pile of rocks and be like, ‘That’s a pile of rocks,’” he says. “Or you can look at that pile of rocks, and … if you’re Moses, if you’re Abraham, it’s an altar.” With an eye of faith, he says, even a hospital bed becomes a holy place where one can draw closer to God.
Today the Reebs thank God for the healing Noah has received, even as they acknowledge that other families are often not so lucky. But looking back on the trial they sometimes felt would never end, James says they’ve learned that “many doors that are marked ‘hell’ have a paradise on the other side.” Jacque reflects on the outpouring of love and support for Noah that came in the darkest of times. “With dark comes light,” she says. “And [for Noah], Tom Brady was a big part of that light.”