On September 10, “Stand Up to Cancer” returned to primetime television with its groundbreaking initiative aimed at raising funds to accelerate innovated cancer research bringing new therapies to cancer patients to save as many lives as possible. And two participants of that event were NBA Detroit Piston Jason Maxiell and his beautiful wife Brandi.
Jason and Brandi celebrated their one year anniversary this past August. But it was back in 2007, while dating that Brandi was unexpectedly diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Chemotherapy resulted in Brandi losing her hair. One day she turned on a Detroit Piston’s game to find that her boyfriend shaved off his hair in a show of solidarity and endless support for his high school sweetheart. Four cycles of chemotherapy later, Brandi’s cancer has gone into remission.
The Maxiell’s sat down with Deshair to talk about their involvement with “SU2C”, survivors’ guilt, and the love which binds them together.
Deshair: Brandi, can you talk to our readers about what Stand Up 2 Cancer focuses on compared to other foundations, and the energy of the people involved.
Brandi Maxiell: I can’t really compare it to any other organization. I do know that 100% of donations go directly towards research. Stand Up 2 Cancer wants to find a cure to every cancer, not just a particular one. I really love how this foundation explains what it does in detail. I’ve met so many people through being a part of this. But I must say I really enjoyed my time spent with Kelly Osbourne. I can’t forget Ryan Seacrest; they both were great to be around, very genuine people.
Deshair: Going through such a high level of adversity, from which parts of your life did you draw the strength to carry on and how hard was it to maintain your focus on that strength?
Brandi Maxiell: It was so hard, from beginning to end. When I first went into surgery, my doctors didn’t know it was cancer. They knew something was wrong with my health, just not to what extents. Honestly, in the beginning, I went through so many tests and so much pain that I looked for the worst. I was in denial of it. And the first thing I thought about was losing my hair. I had long beautiful hair, halfway down my back and I didn’t want to lose it. I know that may sound childish, but I’m just being real about this. I was devastated. But once I lost my hair, one of the few things I cherished, I’ve gained true perspective about life. I felt that I could do anything after that. My strength came from that, but ultimately my family. I know I wasn’t the best person to deal with during those times, yet they stuck with me, encouraged me. Traveling with my now husband, fiancé at the time, really helped. By doctor’s orders, I wasn’t supposed to be traveling at the time. It wasn’t until they saw me recovering faster and feeling better about myself that they said, “Whatever she’s doing, let her do it.”
Deshair: Jason, you play very hard and efficiently on the court for the Pistons. What parts of your game has Brandi written all over it?
Jason Maxiell: Her strength is… she is so strong, a fighter, she can make it through anything. When I practiced or played, there was no such thing as adversity.
Deshair: Brandi, to survive anything, sometimes a person feels guilty being a survivor when so many others didn't... have you ever found yourself feeling survivors’ guilt and if not what did your survival bring you on an emotional level?
Brandi Maxiell: One of the reasons why I didn’t want to talk about my survival so soon was because I was still personally and emotionally going through it. I can talk about my survival now, although I still have emotional moments, I’m not crying as much as I had in the past. I had Stage 1, so I was cured. However, there was still a part of me that felt like I didn’t have the right to talk about it because I was conscious of what so many other people are still going through. I felt so bad because I was going to the Chemotherapy offices and witnessed first hand, the suffering of other women. But I had to learn and pray that this was my blessing. And I pray for others to survive this as well. My best friend’s mother just passed away from ovarian cancer. It’s hard for me to find the words to say to my best friend now that I have survived the very cancer her mother passed because of.
Deshair: Talk about your current involvement with Stand Up to Cancer?
Brandi Maxiell: I am just now getting my feet wet with it. You may have to ask me that in a few months. But I do have a walk that’s coming up. And I am hoping to be at my best for that. I want to be more involved in helping as many people as I can by telling my story and spreading hope.
Deshair: Jason, the Eastern Conference is pretty stacked this season. I’m not going to ask you about Miami… talk to us about what the Pistons will bring to the table this season.
Jason Maxiell: Well first, we will return with Tracy McGrady; he is a talented all-star caliber player that will bring a lot of experience to our team. We have a mixture of young talent and old heads (veterans) on our team. We are going to play hard Detroit Piston basketball for 48 minutes.
Deshair: It is very easy to see how much love you have for each other. I want to know from each of you, what makes your relationship work and what do you find yourselves working on to keep your connection strong?
Jason Maxiell: Brandi and I have each other’s back. We’ve been through a lot together and we are stronger than ever because of it. She is my inspiration. How could I not give all that I have on the basketball when I have a wife as strong as mine. We want to spend more time together. And she wants to get away from the cold in Detroit. So we’ll travel to places like Miami and L.A. to enjoy ourselves. Being an only child, I didn’t have someone to speak to about things. Now I can speak to Brandi about anything and everything.
Brandi Maxiell: Adding on to Jason’s statements, I had siblings, but I was older than them by 13 years, so in a way I felt like to only child socially. Jason and I are used to having our private time. When we come together, we can be ourselves. We know how to communicate. Communication is the heart and key to our relationship. We bond so well. Also, a part of our relationship was long distance. That helped us to respect each other’s space. Not to toot our own horn, but we do a great job together. Jason is my best friend. I can’t do anything without him.