Tuesdays generally are a day of rest for NFL players, a time to heal up from the physical rigors of game day and allow their minds to rest as they get ready for the week ahead.
For Nate Solder, Tuesdays are nothing of the sort.
He and his wife are up early, preparing to take their 4-year-old son on a flight to Boston, where Hudson Solder will undergo chemotherapy treatments for kidney cancer. At the end of the day, they return to their New Jersey home, where Nate will catch a few hours of sleep before reporting to the Giants’ training facility the next morning.
The Solders found out earlier this season that Hudson would need more treatment for the kidney cancer that originally was diagnosed when he was seven months old. During the Giants’ bye week, Hudson had a tumor removed from one of his kidneys. He has received weekly chemo treatments ever since.
“He’s on a little routine, and we’ve settled into our new lifestyle,” Solder told Newsday after practice Thursday. “We’re traveling back and forth to Boston, which is fine. We make it work. He’s handling the treatments really well.”
There is no self-pity in Solder’s voice, nothing other than positive vibes as his family deals with an ongoing challenge that will always be a part of their lives. Having a sick child can be unimaginably difficult, and there certainly have been low moments for the Solders. But through those challenges come gifts of understanding, of empathy and of giving.
“I think that there are no accidents,” Solder said. “God is using this for good. Even in the toughest moments, there are people suffering a lot more than us. We have to continue to lift them up and do what we can. And we have gotten so much support and love from so many people. We’re overwhelmed.”
Solder, 31, is a cancer survivor himself, having beaten testicular cancer after being diagnosed in 2014, when he was the Patriots’ left tackle. But Hudson’s diagnosis has been a much more challenging situation, one that the family knew would be a long-term issue shortly after his diagnosis.
“It’s been very cyclical,” Solder said. “He started the treatment, he did great, went off the treatment, then had to go back on it. We’ve done that twice already, and this is our third time starting it back up. We knew it was going to be a long road, till he’s like 7 years old, and for [the rest of] his life, they’ll have to monitor it. He has something going on in his kidneys, and it’s something they don’t fully understand.”
The emotional roller coaster is unavoidable, and playing football while your son is dealing with an illness certainly is taxing. But there also is something therapeutic in it for Solder.
“It does wear on you, sure, but this is a great safe haven that I can be here and I can focus on something besides that,” Solder said. “[Football] is so near and dear to me. This is a great outlet. My wife [Lexi] doesn’t have that, but she finds other outlets. She has friends and her family. She’s a rock star. She’s much tougher than me.”
Solder’s teammates marvel at his ability to persevere despite his son’s illness.
“With what Nate and his family are going through, the fact that he can come in every day, be the same person, be dedicated to this team, it’s amazing,” guard Kevin Zeitler said. “There’s no bitterness. He never comes in any time and says, ‘Why me?’ He’s handled everything with the utmost grace, and it’s a true example of what everyone in this locker room should be if they ever have a challenge in their life. It’s unbelievable how he and his wife handle everything.”
Solder was nominated by the Giants for the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award, the second time he has been up for the award. He also was nominated by the Patriots in 2017. Solder is a man of deep faith and has always believed in giving to others, something that has become even more of a priority after dealing with his own illness and now his son’s.
He is involved with several charities, including the Jimmy Fund Clinic at Boston Children’s Hospital, the Joe Andruzzi Foundation and the recently created Hudson Solder “Tough Like My Dad” fund to help offset living expenses that insurance doesn’t cover for families dealing with cancer. Solder also is on the board of Fresh Truck, which provides affordable fruits, vegetables and healthy food to low-income Boston-area families.
“These are things I’ve always wanted to do, and the fact that the NFL recognizes it is really neat,” Solder said. “Not just me, because I’m a fan of people who give their lives to change others’ lives. To be a part of that group is very special.”
And so is Solder.