Ever since she was a toddler, Faith Schneider, now 15, has loved the Kansas City Chiefs.
A family ritual was visiting just one game a year, but splurging on the best seats the family could find to sit on the 50-yard-line.
The rest of the football season her family curled up together in their family room - the room with a stone fireplace embedded with the Chief's logo - cheering them on, forecasting which teams they would beat, bragging about their favorite players. Who is Faith's favorite player? "Jamal Charles!" she almost yells, because isn't he everyone's favorite?
But this year there have been no Chiefs game visits for Faith and her family.
In early May, Faith was diagnosed with a rare form of the aggressive Carcinoid cancer. It's so rare in children that it took doctors months before they finally diagnosed her. By July, doctors found tumors in her head, her heart, her abdomen, her bone marrow and her lungs.
Faith has fought it with all her physical and mental strength. She is stubborn and strong-willed, independent and extremely nurturing, her parents said.
"And she has the biggest heart in the world," added her father, Ron.
The sassy girl who plays trumpet and volleyball for Smithville High School, and who has a crush on a drummer at Truman State, accepted her cancer challenge like a pro athlete. She faced all her treatments and pain the same way her beloved Chiefs trained to win, or dealt with their losses and injuries.
Bring it on, she told her surprised doctors at Children's Mercy when they struggled to insert a port. "It's no biggie," she assured them, flashing them a smile.
No wigs or hats for me, she told her parents when her hair started falling out. "This is who I am." (Although she makes exceptions for a red Chief's ball cap, sometimes.)
She celebrated her 15th birthday in room 20 at Children's Mercy Hospital.
"Even in the midst of cancer, Faith finds the silver-lining in every cloud," said her father. "God is our foundation, and Faith is our inspiration."
The one accessory Faith is never without is her smile. With her bald head, her smile seems even bigger and brighter.
On Christmas Eve, when three rookie elves of the Elves of Christmas Present walked into her family's home carrying two big presents and one greeting card, Faith started to laugh. For me?
Of course, they answered.
The Elves of Christmas Present is a grassroots organization of all anonymous people, who try to make Christmas extra-special for a few families who have suffered much in the year. Often, their presents cannot be bought in a store. The elves have learned that the magic of Christmas comes from giving of their time and themselves. Some of their gifts have been extraordinary.
One Christmas Eve, they worked all night to finish building a second story addition so that a father who died could fulfill a promise he made to his children.
Another year, they whisked a child who loved Civil War history in a time machine, traveling back to an 1862 Christmas Eve encampment of the Missouri Irish Brigade, with horses, a battle and some bedraggled Confederates, as well.
And still another year, they arranged for a little boy whose sister had died on Christmas Eve to deliver presents with Santa Claus by riding in a helicopter (the reindeer were tired) and landing in the middle of a suburban street, sneaking into a home loaded with a sack of presents, and flying off once more.
Faith's biggest present from the elves was also the smallest, the gift that the elves saved for last.
She tore open the wrapping paper in both big boxes. Inside the first was an autographed helmet, signed by last year's Chiefs players from the Pro Bowl team. The second, was an autographed football.
Faith was speechless. But not her dad, Ron.
"Look Faith, you're holding a touchdown in your hands," he said, touching the fine leather on the football. On one side was the autograph of quarterback Alex Smith; on the exact opposite side the signature was from wide receiver, Dexter McCluster.
But it was the card that held the best surprise, the one that made her cry.
On the front were the words, "For Faith, from some of your fans." Inside was a URL for a Facebook page: Weve-Got-Faith
She placed her laptop on the floor and sprawled out, carefully typing the name, pecking it out slowly to get it exactly as it was written, without the apostrophe.
But the typing was hard because her fingers trembled. She pushed another button and...
Up popped a photo of her taken in September wearing her homecoming dress, a zebra striped bodice that showed off her curves. The main photo is of Arrowhead Stadium. Fireworks are bursting with ribbons of light, illuminating the stadium filled with a sea of fans wearing red.
Faith has loved fireworks and zebras for several years. (An irony, because physicians label her type of cancer with a zebra color because it is so very rare.) On the Facebook page, her face glows. Her date that night was with the drummer named Joe, and Homecoming was the first time she ever slow danced with a boy.
Her finger scrolled through the messages in awe, and her eyes suddenly opened wide.
From the Arrowhead locker room, 15 Chiefs players had recorded individual messages, naming her, wishing her a Merry Christmas and asking her to get well soon.
She was thrilled. Only later, when the elves left, did she notice that something, or rather someone, was missing.
Her favorite player was MIA.
She sighed. But of course, she forgave him. She was oh so grateful for the amazing presents and has watched the postings again and again.
But a few days later, a little bit of Christmas magic happened. Just before the Chiefs game began, another present arrived, not wrapped. Just folded nicely. A present that, in the chaos of Christmas at Elf Central, was somehow separated from Faith's football and helmet.
A signed Chief's Jersey.
Signed by Jamaal, it came with a relayed message that he really wanted Faith to have his jersey.
She crumpled the thick, red jersey and buried her head in it. After a moment, she slipped it on.
"How did he know?" she asked, tears rolling down her cheeks. "I'll never take it off."
Her dad moved in fast, teasing. "Faith, be careful where you cry. You don't want to wash off his handwriting."
Her family laughed. And then someone made the joke, "You gotta have Faith."
Faith, a typical teen, gave an eye-roll, before smiling.
Yup. She's heard that expression a lot, she said.
But then she felt the fatigue. Her eyes fluttered closed. She needed to rest before the Chiefs game.
Her father stepped into another room away from Faith. His heart filled with love, Ron Schneider wanted the world to know this:
"Faith's name has never meant more than it does now. She reminds us to laugh and enjoy life, to let go of the petty things. Even on her worse days she's still happy.
"That gives us all strength."
He hurried back down to the family room, back to the side of his little girl. The Chiefs game was about to start.
And he wanted to cheer really loud for Jamaal.
LEE HILL KAVANAUGH