Occasionally, Janice Wilkerson feels little aches and pains in her bones. "But that's my knees cracking, though," she said, laughing, over the phone Monday night.
That minor discomfort is nothing compared to what she endured 15 years ago -- a breast cancer diagnosis that had her and her four children, including future Jets defensive lineman Muhammad Wilkerson, fearing the worst.
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But after 15 years of being in remission, Janice Wilkerson counts her blessings. Along with her NFL star son, they continue to raise awareness about the disease in hopes of finding a cure.
Yesterday, Wilkerson and his T.E.A.M. 96 Foundation hosted their second annual breast cancer survivor luncheon in Roselle, New Jersey. Ninety-six women -- a hat tip to Wilkerson's jersey number -- were recognized and provided three-course meals and gifts given by Avon. "We want to continue to share with women that they need to stay on top of their medical checkups, to eat correctly and try to live a fit life and do whatever they can to remain in remission," Janice told Newsday on Monday night.
The 96 women were invited through Susan G. Komen North Jersey and the Sisters Network of Central New Jersey. Wilkerson's grandmother, also a breast cancer survivor, invited women from her church, too.
Janice was diagnosed with extensive ductal carcinoma in situ in 2000. It had surfaced "like millions of grains of popcorn" in her milk duct, she told Newsday in 2013, but because the cancer had remained contained, she did not need chemotherapy or radiation. Instead, she had a mastectomy on her right breast.
Etched in blue ink on Muhammad Wilkerson's right arm is a large breast cancer ribbon. Within it is the word "Ka'idah" -- his mother's name in Arabic.
"When he was younger, he wouldn't talk about it," Janice said. "But now that he's an adult, he's OK with it. He's making people aware that this is an ugly disease and not only breast cancer, but all cancer.
"Because of the person that he is and because he's so close to me, he knows that this is something that touched my heart."
She said she had a checkup "about three months ago" and her bloodwork was fine. But Janice added she hasn't been seeing a doctor as often as she should. Her oncologist recently retired, and she's in the process of finding a new one. The NFL won’t allow Wilkerson to put his mother on his insurance because, as is the case with most plans, parents cannot be added as dependents to a player’s health insurance, according to the NFLPA.
But she insisted she's doing well. "As far as the cancer goes, I've been good,'' she said. "I've been good."
Besides her full-time job, she works for her son, tending to the "day-to-day operations" of Wilkerson's schedule of appearances and charity events.
To Janice, Wilkerson's NFL star status and his charitable contributions are a testament to the lessons she instilled in her four children.
"My mother has this saying: If you honor your mother and father, your days on this Earth will be long," she said. "And there's a saying in the Quran: 'Paradise lies at the feet of your mother.' And Muhammad got that."
"I was dedicated to my mother and he's dedicated to me. He was my one child that, no matter what I said, he listened. So it's amazing that my son -- despite all the struggles that we had, the rough times that we went through -- still held his ground and listened to what we told him.
"And these are the benefits and the blessings when you honor your parents," said Janice, who, in addition to her social work, cares for her brother with Down Syndrome. "He always talks about giving back. And I like to say that he got that from me."