NASHVILLE – Before the start of the 2019 season, the countdown was on for defensive lineman Kyle Peko.
Two big events were on the horizon:
-The start of Peko's fourth NFL season, and the birth of Peko's second child.
Then came some sobering news: Peko's wife, Giuliana, had been diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma.
The cancer diagnosis came not long after daughter Evangeline was born.
"It was a lot for our family," said Peko, who was with the Buffalo Bills at the time. "A lot was weighing on our hearts as far as me going back (to play football) or not."
Doctors discovered two lumps on Giuliana's neck, and she decided to get it checked out. Since her earlier cancer symptoms mirrored those of pregnancy, doctors said Giuliani had been dealing with the cancer in her body for a while without even knowing it. At her diagnosis, she had Stage 3 Hodgkin's Lymphoma, type of cancer that affects the lymphatic system.
The Bills gave Peko some time at the start of training camp to spend time with his wife as she began chemotherapy.
The plan was for 12 rounds of treatments in all.
While Peko questioned whether he should return to football, his wife gave him a pep talk he'll never forget.
"She basically told me: Go and make the team. Go kick ass in camp, and I'll hold it down here and kick ass during treatments," Peko said with a smile. "And that's what she did."
This week, as players across the NFL pay tribute to those affected by cancer, Peko will have his wife on his mind, as always.
Entering its 15th season, the NFL's Crucial Catch initiative supports the American Cancer Society (ACS) and addresses early detection and risk reduction for multiple types of cancers.
After the 12 rounds of chemotherapy, Giuliana Peko said is wife is now four years cancer-free.
"God is good," he said. "Five years is the official remission time, so praying and hoping to get to that fifth year."
Now in his eighth NFL season, after spending time with the Broncos, Bills, Raiders and Titans, Kyle Peko is still representing his family on football fields. He's paid his dues and stuck with it, despite dealing with adversity along the way, bouncing on and off rosters, and practice squads.
Peko, promoted to the Titans' active roster earlier this month, has played in all three games for the team in 2023. Since initially entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2016, Peko has been waived 15 times in his career.
It turns out perseverance runs in the family.
"People ask, Why do you play?," Peko said. "(My wife) is one of the main reasons, and obviously my kids.
"It's a special week for the league (with Crucial Catch). It is awesome the NFL highlights this weekend for those (who've battled cancer)."