Packers QB pays surprise visit to Belgium man as he documents cancer fight for MACC Fund
When 23-year-old Brandon Novack of Belgium opened the door at attorney David Gruber’s Whitefish Bay house, the last person he expected to see was Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
That’s evident in television commercials now airing for Gruber Law Office and the MACC (Milwaukee Athletes Against Childhood Cancer) Fund.
Rodgers had to look around the door to find Brandon, who was expecting a camera crew to enter, not his sports hero.
“It caught me really off guard,” Brandon said. “I just thought it was going to be an interview with the MACC Fund and nothing out of the ordinary. I didn’t expect to see him on the other side of the door.”
The commercial was filmed in October at Gruber’s house and the Milwaukee lakefront, but Brandon, his parents Joanie and Leonard and brother Connor couldn’t say anything about it until the commercials started to air last month.
As part of the ad campaign, Rodgers has also surprised Maggie, 11, who underwent chemotherapy for a tumor in her mouth, and Dijon, 12, who battled sickle cell anemia until he got a bone-marrow transplant from his brother.
Brandon, who was diagnosed with T-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia when he was 12, underwent 108 weeks of chemotherapy and full cranial radiation to kill the cancer cells. The treatments caused side effects, including brittle bones, resulting in fractures in his spine and feet. Three years ago, he suffered double vision for two months.
Rodgers was interested in his battle, Brandon said.
“He knew some of my background. He really wanted to know about it (his cancer battle). He’s really a genuine person,” Brandon said.
“I was with him for close to two hours and we just talked about anything and everything.”
Rodgers asked Brandon how his battle at such a young age affected his character and what he learned about himself.
“It makes you grow up real fast,” Brandon said. “You have to roll with the punches.
“You just have to live in the moment. Live every day like it’s your last, but keep pushing through everything. It’s always going to get tough, but you have to keep going, not only for yourself but for your friends and family.”
Watching his family through his up-and-down battle was almost as hard as experiencing it, he said.
Brandon and Rodgers tossed a football around. When Rodgers said he was going to throw it over Gruber’s house, Brandon cautioned, “You’re going to break something, man.” That didn’t
While walking on a pier in Lake Michigan, Rodgers told Brandon about his one fishing experience on the lake.
“It was a blast until the waves started coming in,” he said. “As a group, we caught nine salmon in two hours, and I spent the next hour puking over the side of the boat.”
The two also talked about Brandon’s first job washing golf carts and collecting balls at a golf course.
Rodgers gave Brandon an autographed No. 12 jersey on which he wrote, “Follow your dreams, find what you love and put everything you have into it.”
This is the second time Brandon met Rodgers and received a cherished memento.
On Dec. 4, 2010, the two met at a “Pack Lunch With Aaron Rodgers” fundraiser for the MACC Fund. Both spoke at the event. On a white commemorative football, Rodgers wrote, “Brandon, thanks for being an inspiration to me.”
Brandon was a poster child for the MACC Fund for many years. He designed a MACC Star ornament and has told his story at numerous fund-raising functions for the organization that funds the research that saved his life.
“I tell everyone that without the MACC Fund, I personally don’t believe I would be here,” Brandon said. “I’m willing to do whatever needs to be done to help.”
A milestone in his recovery was when Brandon was able to ride his bike in the MACC Fund Trek 100 Ride for Hope with his parents and brother in 2007. He’s ridden each year since.
Mrs. Novack knew about Rodgers’ visit, but didn’t tell her husband for fear he would get so excited that he would say something.
The couple cut short a Door County trip to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary to be at Gruber’s home when Rodgers arrived.
“Len couldn’t understand why we needed to be there since Brandon is an adult,” Mrs. Novack said.
Brandon graduated from Cedar Grove-Belgium High School in 2008 and earned a marketing degree at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay in 2012.
He is now a marketing intern at Harley-Davidson in Milwaukee.
The TV commercial is short. A longer video of Brandon with Rodgers, as well as an opportunity to donate to the MACC Fund, is on www.itsaaron.com.
Image Information: CANCER SURVIVOR Brandon Novack (right) posed with Aaron Rodgers, who surprised him in October for a TV commercial that is currently airing.