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Remembering our friend Natalie Packer

  • By Christine Detz Special to NFL.com
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Nine months. Nine months is how long Natalie Packer fought breast cancer before it took her life at the age of 30.

"Sometimes, I wake up thinking did this really happen that fast?" Natalie's uncle, Sam Heller, said.

But this isn't a story about Natalie's death at far too young an age; it's the story of how she lived.

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Remembering Natalie Packer

NFL colleagues share their memories of Natalie Packer.

Natalie, the oldest daughter of Bilhah and David Packer, grew up in Palmdale, Calif., playing soccer and mentoring her younger sister, Nicole. Natalie's family describes her as full of life, adventurous and strong-willed.

"She went after what she wanted and didn't back down from things," Nicole said.

One of those things Natalie wanted was a job with the NFL, and in 2008 she was hired by the NFL Media Group as a production generalist. Natalie worked in payroll and impacted so many employees in the Culver City, Calif., office. Her work earned her the Rookie of the Year award at the 2009 Commissioner's Awards.

"Just being nominated for it was huge for her," Nicole said.

When Natalie's treatments took her away from the office, her coworkers showed her just how much she meant to them. According to Natalie's family, coworkers called, emailed and texted her throughout her treatment to see how she was doing. And they stepped up in a big way last May, when Natalie put together a team for her local Relay For Life event. The event, sponsored by the American Cancer Society, raises money and awareness in an effort to save lives. Natalie's team raised approximately $12,000 -- an amount almost unheard of for first-year teams.

"When the walk occurred, she had just finished her last chemo session. It meant a lot to her," Nicole said.

Natalie with her sister Nicole.
Natalie with her sister Nicole. "She went after what she wanted and didn't back down from things," Nicole said

Taking care of others and giving back were important parts of Natalie's life, so it should come as no surprise that she used her diagnosis as a chance to educate others about breast cancer. She wanted other women to know what to look for when doing their own breast self-exams.

"Natalie made the world feel this lump. 'Come, give me your hand, feel this,' " her sister remembered.

To honor Natalie, her uncle and aunt, Sam and Marlies Heller, decided to raise funds to donate an ambulance in Natalie's name to the city of Jerusalem.

"Every time that ambulance goes to save somebody's life, it'll be because Natalie was born," Sam Heller said.

To learn more about the A Crucial Catch campaign and the NFL's fundraising efforts for the American Cancer Society visit www.nfl.com/pink

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