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The Night Cancer Survivor Tara Sankner Upstaged a Redskin

by Chris Lingebach
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The spotlight couldn't be brighter for Tara's big night. Like the Pray for Tara Facebook Page

The spotlight couldn’t be brighter for Tara’s big night. Like the Pray for Tara Facebook Page

FAIRFAX, Va. (CBSDC) - For one night in Fairfax, Pierre Garçon wasn’t the most famous person in a public setting, and RGIII was nowhere to be found.

Standing outside of Paisano’s Pizza in Fair Lakes Thursday evening stood a 10×10 tent covering a red carpet, and a line of people stretching the length of the sidewalk, in anticipation of meeting one person.

One child’s voice could be overheard, “I wish I could get Tara’s autograph.”

Another, “Tara’s famous.”

Tara Sankner, at just eight years old, had more than sixty people waiting for a chance to speak with, share a picture and maybe even a laugh with her.

Over the course of the last six months, she’d appeared on local and national television shows spreading her message of hope and perseverance, and unbeknownst to her, she was about to upstage her favorite Redskin.

“First time meeting her, I went over [to her house] just to hang out,” Garçon said of Sankner, “just a young girl having fun, just enjoying life.”

“She didn’t know what to say,” said Tara’s mom, Tammy Sankner, recalling the encounter. “She was kind of smitten, kind of like embarrassed, and then they just sat and he talked with her for like two hours. Nobody else mattered in that room but Tara.”

Simply enjoying life would be accomplishment enough for Tara, who was recently diagnosed with an inoperable form of brain cancer know as Astrocytoma.

“I have done a lot of tears in the last seven months,” Tammy said.

But Tara would never let a little thing like cancer get in the way of living life to the fullest. Her eternal smile and optimism have become a source of inspiration for so many others.

Garçon reached out to Tara’s family a few months back, and upon meeting her and hearing her story, chose to make her the face of his promotional campaign with Paisano’s, aimed at raising awareness for childhood cancer.

Over the next month – from Sept. 3 to Sept. 30 – the ‘Let’s Take Care of Tara’ campaign would pledge 10% of all Paisano’s phone orders in which Tara’s name was mentioned to Tara’s family.

“When her picture hit the internet with some of the things that his people have done, and what Paisano’s has done, she’s like ‘Mommm…look at all this stuff.’ I’m like ‘I know, baby, this is all for you,'” Tammy said.

Tara’s mom was completely taken aback by the outpouring of support her daughter received.

“I’m going ‘Wow, this is all for our little girl,'” she said. “And it definitely makes you cry.”

“It makes you realize there are actually good people out there,” she added. “With all the bad that happens, there are actually some good people out there.”

“It’s definitely always refreshing to see that you can help and it always motivates you to try to help more people,” Garçon said.

Garçon had pledged an additional $2,500 for every touchdown he scored in the Redskins’ season-opener against the Eagles. Only problem is, he never scored.

“Because he didn’t get a touchdown that first Monday night, he decided to carry it all through September,” Tammy said.

On this particular night, a large crowd had gathered to watch the check presentation – the culmination of tireless hours and countless tears shed – with a who’s who of local television crews on-hand to capture the momentous occasion.

By the time Pierre had arrived, it was already clear to everyone in attendance he was just the warm-up act; that on this night, the real star would shine, and her name was Tara.

Sure, the two conducted interviews together. It was actually rather sweet to see Pierre feeding Tara pointers, as she soaked up the spotlight from the cameras of local affiliates: ABC 7, Fox 5 and NBC 4.

“This interview’s over,” Garçon muttered to Tara. “Tell ‘em.”

“It was all about Tara,” Garçon said with a wide smile as the event concluded. “It’s a great thing. She signed autographs. She’s No. 8, I’m No. 88, so it’s pretty good to see she was in good spirits. She had a lot of her friends there. The George Mason softball team came, her teammates came. It was great.”

And almost as if it were written for a Hollywood screenplay, Pierre gave a line that would seem typical of someone who’d just met their childhood hero.

“I definitely enjoyed the moment,” he said. “And definitely will forever.”

It’s strange how as humans, we struggle our entire lives to find the meaning of life, only to learn our greatest life-lessons from children. If this young girl – at just 8 years old, and battling an incurable form of cancer – can find a reason to smile every day, I’m not sure why we can’t either :)

Visit Tara’s Facebook page for more info on how to donate, or donate to Stillbrave, the Sankner family’s preferred charity.

Photos: Tara Presented with $10k Check

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