“Any situation can have that kind of effect on you where you realize how important the little things in life are, like calling someone and telling them, ‘I love you.’"
The relationship between Yankees outfielder Cameron Maybin and his mother, Renee, is one built on trust. “She’s always been an honest parent, never sugarcoated anything,” he says. They’ve talked regularly throughout Maybin’s MLB career, one that’s spanned eight teams across 13 seasons—over 1,100 games, of which he says Renee has watched every single one. They were open about everything. So it came as a surprise when, last November, Renee revealed to Cameron and his sister, Camille, that she’d been hiding something from them: a breast cancer diagnosis.
“I think she knew for a while but was just trying to figure out how to tell [us],” Maybin says. “We’re a really close family, we’ve got a really close circle, and we’re all like best friends, so I think it was really hard for her to tell us because she knew how much we were going to worry.”
Unfortunately for Maybin, this wasn’t his or his family’s first brush with cancer. The disease claimed the life of Renee’s mother. Renee’s sister, Brenda, is a breast cancer survivor; her fight is the inspiration behind a tattoo on Maybin’s left forearm that reads “FAITH HOPE BELIEVE” superimposed on a ribbon. (Nor is that level of incidence all that surprising: According to BreastCancer.org, one in eight U.S. women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime—with the disease more common in African-American women than others—and it’s the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in women.) Renee was lucky, as the cancer was discovered early. Still, it was sobering and difficult news for Maybin and the rest of the family, though they were determined to tackle it with positivity.
“The worry kind of subsided, and we focused on prayer and truly believing that God had a plan for her, and she stayed so enthusiastic and upbeat the whole time,” Maybin says. “It was incredible for me to see her energy. Every day, it never changed, never wavered. Her faith never wavered. She never got down.”
That message—“I’m going to beat this”—became the mantra for Maybin and everyone else. “She made us believe she could handle it,” he says. “She stayed so positive that it was easier for us to stay positive.” And while it was difficult being away from Renee as she underwent treatment, Maybin was buoyed by the fact that, every time he talked to her, she sounded strong. “Always smiling, saying ‘I feel great,’” he says.
It helped that, when Renee had a mastectomy performed in April, Maybin’s then-team—the Columbus Clippers, the Triple A affiliate of the Indians, for whom Maybin played for before being traded to the Yankees at the end of that month—allowed him to go home to Asheville, N.C., to be by her side. For a few days, he kept her company and helped around the house; Camille, who moved in for a few weeks, and other members of Renee’s family also joined in.
“I think it helped having so much family and laughter,” Cameron says. “We’ve got a silly family. It’s always jokes and laughing and it’s loud at the house. I think that helped with her healing.”
Just a few months ago, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. Our family was shocked, but my mom is the strongest person I know. If anyone can overcome cancer it’s my mom. That’s why I choose to be strong for her. It’s why I choose to be NaeNae Strong. https://t.co/LcdUNSfpCS pic.twitter.com/7DOC97SeR4— Cameron Maybin (@CameronMaybin) May 10, 2019
Over the course of the year, Maybin sought to raise money for breast cancer research by selling shirts in honor of his mother through his charitable foundation. The public announcement came out on May 10—two days before Mother’s Day. “This year, it means a lot to me to be able to go out and play in her honor, give her energy and thanks,” he told YES Network’s Meredith Marakovits that day. “If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t be the man that I am today.” He also toted a pair of black rubber bracelets with pink lettering on his left arm, both gifts from his mother—one reading “CANCER SUCKS,” the other, “I WEAR THESE FOR MY MOM.”
Back on the field, Maybin was putting together one of his top seasons to date: Through Sept. 1, he’s hit .291/.368/.490 with eight homers and seven steals as a reserve outfielder in the Bronx. The best moment of the season, though, came in August, when Renee underwent her last radiation treatment and was officially declared in remission.
A great Game 1 win for the boys today, but a more important win off the field as my mom, Nae Nae, is officially in remission from her breast cancer diagnosis. Thank you to everyone who has sent their love and support for #NaeNaeStrong 💞 Now let's get after it for Game 2 tonight! pic.twitter.com/vxNWIVLR0P— Cameron Maybin (@CameronMaybin) August 12, 2019
True to form, the family celebrated—including a party in Asheville at the end of the month—and then moved on to better things. “We don’t dwell on stuff a lot,” Maybin says. “I think that’s what helped us get through it. And that’s her. She’s the one who’s like, how’re you doing, and I’m like, I called to see how you feel.”
For now, Renee is safe and healing from treatment. And though she survived her scrape with cancer, Cameron knows others haven’t been as fortunate. He also believes that those scares have reinforced the philosophy he has on life as a whole: Never take it for granted.
“Every day, people ask me how I’m doing, and I say, ‘I woke up,’” Maybin says. “No day’s given for anybody. Any situation can have that kind of effect on you where you realize how important the little things in life are, like calling someone and telling them, ‘I love you.’
Cameron and Renee still talk every day, checking up on each other as his season draws to a close and she continues her recovery. The openness and honesty are still there, he says—well, relatively. “She’s been doing well. At least, that’s what she says,” Maybin says with a laugh. “Sometimes I don’t know if she’s telling me the truth. But that’s what moms do. They don’t want their kids to worry.”