Washington Wizards forward Nene had a life-threatening tumor surgically removed just over five years ago, and he now says God used cancer to test him and prepare him for helping others.
Nene was diagnosed with testicular cancer when he was just 25 years old and playing for the Denver Nuggets, and he recently told The Washington Post that he didn't realize the five-year anniversary of his surgery had come and gone on Jan. 14.
The Brazilian-born player – who changed his name to Nene in 2003 but was born Maybyner Rodney Hilario – is a Christian and credits God with blessing him to overcome the many obstacles he has faced. In addition to dealing with health issues including cancer, a severe knee injury and an ongoing case of plantar fasciitis on his left foot, the now 30-year-old Nene has also experienced the difficulties of poverty and leaving his native country as a teenager.
"I always remember what I've been through to be here," Nene told the Post. "I have no shoes, I have no clothes, but I was blessed. I remember my mom. She have money to buy the food or give to God like you're supposed to, because we're Christian. She give to God and say, 'You know, we don't have food today, but God is going to provide our future.' "
His mother trusted God to provide financially, and Nene is now playing under a five-year, $65 million contract.
And when it came to his illness, Nene decided to trust God with his health. He declined to receive counseling leading up to his surgery, the Post reports, believing that Jesus and the Bible were enough help in the days leading up to his surgery. Still, he had his doubts about his future.
"I say: 'Why? Why me? All bad dudes around, why me? I'm a good guy,'" said Nene, according to the Post. "But God, when He want to test someone, He put this kind of test and He bless you after that. I had to prove that I can get back from cancer. From cancer!"
While in Memphis preparing to take on the Grizzlies recently, Nene and the rest of the Wizards visited with patients at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, according to the official Wizards blog. The team actually had a practice scheduled for that day, but it was skipped in favor of an impromptu visit to the hospital.
The visit was part of Hoops for St. Jude, a joint initiative between the hospital and NBA Cares, and it made an impact not only on the children being treated there for cancer and other life-threatening diseases but also on the players themselves.
"Had a great day @StJude hospital wit my team," Wizards star John Wall said in a Twitter post. "Gives u a great value on life, what to be thankful for and a great place that's saving ppl lives."
Martell Webster described the experience as "very humbling" in the caption to a photo of his team in front of the hospital that he posted to Instagram.
For Nene, the experience reminded him of the sensations he felt during his own chemotherapy treatments, the Post reports, along with the fear that his organs might shut down.
At the same time Nene was battling with cancer, Lauren Hilario, his wife, was dealing with medical issues of her own, according to the Post. Just months after Nene's surgery, Hilario had brain surgery for a benign tumor that had developed on her pituitary gland and caused her migraine headaches and blurred vision in her left eye.
The couple, who will celebrate their fourth anniversary on Valentine's Day, has added a family member, a 19-month-old baby boy named Mateos Hilario, since they each had surgery to address their medical crises.
"I realize God, He marked me, to understand, back in the day when I diagnosed with cancer, He said, 'You're going to have it because you're going to help a lot of people,'" Nene told the Post. "I'm not nothing without God. The things I've been through, I been through because He was with me. If I wasn't, I would've fell on the first wall."
During a 2009 interview with AOL FanHouse, while he still played for the Nuggets, Nene said he will retire before the 2016 Summer Olympics, which will take place in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. He said he wanted to retire earlier than most people would expect him to – at or before age 33 – so he can be more involved with God is the Answer, his church in Brazil.