Michael Nelson is a devoted Ducks fan. When he was recently invited to be part of a tour of Autzen Stadium, the Moshofsky Center and the Hatfield-Dowlin Complex—the operations center for Oregon’s football program—he was awed by the experience.

“I’ve been to a lot of games, and this was overwhelming. Going behind-the-scenes, I just didn’t realize how much went into getting ready for a football game,” Michael says.

The tour kicked off the Fight Like a Duck campaign, a partnership between Willamette Valley Cancer Institute and Oregon Athletics. Michael, who has been treated for both throat and prostate cancer, is one of seven local cancer survivors being honored as “Heroes of the Game” this season during each of the Ducks’ home football games.

“Fight Like a Duck is a great opportunity to acknowledge what our patients go through during their fight against cancer,” says WVCI medical oncologist Dr. Christopher Yasenchak. “It’s one more way we can provide them with support and encouragement.”

What is the Fight Like a Duck campaign?
The Fight Like a Duck campaign celebrates the strength and tenacity of those fighting cancer in our area, and aims to raise awareness about the high-quality, multidisciplinary care provided in our community, including the latest cancer therapies.

Clinical trials are certainly one aspect of that,” says Dr. Yasenchak. “At WVCI, we are able to offer patients access to experimental therapies. In many cases, this gives patients more options and allows us to further develop promising agents that are going to be far less toxic and more effective than what we consider the current standard of care.”

A look behind-the scenes
During the tour, the group posed for a lot of pictures, on Autzen’s turf and with Marcus Mariota’s Heisman trophy. They got a look inside the Ducks’ impressive facilities, from the team’s 170-seat theater and press room, to the lounges, locker rooms and weight room, where they met Aaron Feld, strength and conditioning coordinator, who offered some perspective on the team’s training.

Michael, a retired elementary school teacher, doesn’t consider himself a hero by any means. He simply found himself, like so many others have, in a fight against a disease he didn’t anticipate. He says he’s truly honored to be recognized as part of the Fight Like a Duck campaign.

“If I can help one person realize that you can get through cancer treatment, and you can go on and lead a normal life, then that’s the part for me. I’m a teacher, so I hope I can teach that to somebody.”

In addition to football, local cancer patients will also be honored at three upcoming “pink” games during the Oregon women’s volleyball, basketball and softball seasons.

Throughout the Fight like a Duck campaign, which is a 3-year partnership between WVCI and Oregon Athletics, WVCI will be sharing patients’ inspiring stories on its social media channels and hosting fun activities at its Eugene clinic, including T-shirt giveaways and a visit by the Oregon Duck.

If you are a patient who would like to share your story and participate in the Fight Like a Duck campaign, simply fill out our survey at fightlikeaduck.com and upload a photo of yourself in your Duck gear. Go Ducks!