MINNEAPOLIS — Nathan Boe was going stir-crazy during his COVID-19 quarantine in late June when his fellow Gophers offensive linemen texted him.
“What’s your address?”
No, not to the location of the hotel where he was holed up due to coronavirus contact tracing, but to his family’s home in Lakeville, Minn. Boe texted back, and later that Sunday, five huge, masked-up young men arrived at Amanda Boe’s front door armed with pink roses.
Nathan’s mother had been diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer in May and was set to have a lumpectomy at the Mayo Clinic within days.
The O-linemen’s gesture of support wasn’t coaxed by the Gophers’ staff, and it was a surprise to both Amanda and Nathan, who was able to watch the emotional moment through a FaceTime call.
“That made me cry,” Nathan said in an interview. “I was stuck in this hotel, and I had teammates take up a couple of hours of their day … to go down and bring my mom some flowers.”
“All the offensive linemen have that protective, caring kind of way about them,” Amanda added. “Super good kids.”
While those 300-pound Minnesota players display brute strength on the field, petite Amanda, whose height doesn’t reach the bottom of their broad shoulders, has shown an inner resolve outside the spotlight during her cancer battle.
Amanda’s surgery removed all the cancer, but given its aggressive nature, she had to endure four rounds of chemotherapy and correlated concerns that possible COVID contraction could be more dangerous given her weakened immune system. She has avoided COVID, and in October received a “very, very good diagnosis” that with follow-up treatments she hopes puts her in the clear.
While Thanksgiving celebrations will be diminished across the state this year, the Boes’ gratitude will be peaking.
“It’s time to be extremely grateful and thankful with everything that we’ve gone through this year,” Amanda said. “Just as a people and a nation, but then to have cancer, too.”
Since her older sister Sheri Kay passed away from breast cancer nearly 30 years ago and a second sister, Angela, got through her bout two years ago, Amanda made it a point to get her annual mammogram completed at United Hospital in St. Paul in late May. That came through a hesitation given the civil unrest occurring in the Twin Cities over George Floyd’s death at that time.
“I was talking to my sister all the way up there saying, ‘I don’t know if this is a good idea,’” Amanda said. “But went ahead and did that.”
Amanda’s third sister, Alix Kendall, is an anchor on Fox 9’s Morning News, and she was sharing parts of Amanda’s battle on TV. And while Amanda doesn’t want the limelight, she was posting updates of her condition on social media.
“I will get an email back or a text back to say, ‘Thank you, I remembered and went and got my mammogram,’” Amanda said. “There were so many reasons not to do it this year, but there are so many reasons to do it. Doctors have said they are expecting a surge in diagnoses in things that people have put off.
“Mine was very early caught, though aggressive, super early caught, and so that is why my prognosis is so good.”
That doesn’t mean it was easy. Amanda started chemo just days before her second-oldest son, Lincoln, had a small socially distanced outdoor graduation party in late July. A graduate of Lakeville North, like Nathan, Lincoln was headed to Wisconsin-La Crosse, where he is a receiver on the football team.
“She had all this poison injected into her and she was running around the house,” Nathan said. “… She was incredible, on her feet the whole day. The next day she was tired, but that day was just impressive to me.”
Nathan often remembered thinking, “How are you doing this right now?”
Nathan marveled at his mother all summer as she continued to work as a youth director at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Lakeville. She would set up outdoor Sunday school classes and Wednesday night prayer groups around a bonfire.
“I think that was super strong to me,” Nathan said. “… She didn’t lose any motivation.”
Amanda said her Christ-centered life helped her through the year, with one verse in particular ringing in her ears. It was Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Soon after her diagnosis in the spring, Gophers coach P.J. Fleck telephoned Amanda, and her maternal instinct kicked in. “I was like, ‘Is everything all right?’” she recalled.
Fleck replied: “I was calling about you and making sure you are OK.” He asked if she needed anything and to reach out if something came up.
UW-La Crosse head coach Matt Janus has checked in on Lincoln and has reached out to Amanda with a card. “We really like him, too,” she said.
“It’s worked out so well for both of the boys to not have just a college experience but the sports, too. That just gives them that extra family on campus for support,” said Amanda, whose two youngest kids, Gavin, 16, and Elayna, 14, are up-and-coming basketball players.
On the Gophers football field this season, Nathan has been a backup, but stepped up when starter Axel Ruschmeyer was hurt and couldn’t finish the game against Maryland in Week 2. He also comes on the field when the U goes to its six-offensive linemen package.
“I’m just thankful that I’m in a position to help my team,” Nathan said. “I’m thankful for any time that you are on the field playing with your brothers. We talked about it as an offensive unit right before the Purdue game; it’s all about just balling with the bros.”
One of those chances came off the table this week when the Gophers’ COVID-19 outbreak forced the cancellation of Saturday’s game at Wisconsin. But sometimes it’s not about the actual game that’s remembered. Boe didn’t play in the season opener against Michigan, but he mentioned it in the interview.
“The fact that I got to run out against Michigan and my mom got cleared to go to that game,” he said. “My parents (with dad Ryan) were there. My brother came all the way from his college to go to the game, too.”
When Amanda’s chemotherapy finished in early October, each Gophers player sent her a hand-written card filled with well wishes.
“I really don’t like to be the center of attention in any way, so I was just so overwhelmed,” Amanda said. “I couldn’t believe they did that. We put (the cards) out on the dining room table, and it just covered the entire table. I could only read a few at a time without tears coming. It was such a feeling of relief to be done, and they were very sweet notes.”
Nathan said the cards remain stacked on the family’s dining room table. “A bunch of my teammates wrote some pretty cool letters to her, and she loves reading those,” he said. “She will have those forever.”
That table will have fewer people around it this Thanksgiving. Nathan and his roommates — fellow O-lineman Austin Beier and linebacker Josh Aune — will be staying on campus as contact is limited to fight the spread of the virus.
But Amanda will be sending Lincoln up to Dinkytown with multiple pans of food. There will be Grandma Elisa’s stuffing — Nathan’s favorite — but also turkey, wild rice, corn bake and pies.
“It’s my favorite holiday,” Nathan said. “The fact that my mom is healthy and my whole family is positive and thankful and all here tighter is just a huge mood booster to us all.”
The reason that it’s the favorite holiday is pretty clear for a big ol’ offensive lineman.
“Just the fact that the whole day you eat food and watch football,” Nathan said. “There is something about Thanksgiving that’s cool. There is no presents or gift-giving. It’s just a time to be together with normally your closer family and just eating all day.”
There will be plenty of Zoom and Face-Time calls to bring the family into the same room, alongside the food and the NFL football.