Nate Solder remembers the most painful car ride of his life. It took place after a radiologist had first looked at scans from Solder’s 3-month-old son Hudson.
Photo by Tim Ellsworth
Nate Solder, a tackle for the New England Patriots, responds to questions during Super Bowl Opening Night events on Jan. 31 at Minute Maid Park in Houston.
“They directed us to the children’s hospital, and they didn’t give us a whole lot of direction of what that meant,” said Solder, a tackle for the New England Patriots. “So we’re driving Hudson to the hospital, and he’s laughing and being playful in his car seat as we’re driving, and my wife and I cried the entire way.
“The thought that was on my mind the whole time was that I had somehow [hurt] this poor innocent child and I’d messed up,” Solder told Baptist Press (BP) during Super Bowl Opening Night events on Jan. 31 at Minute Maid Park in Houston. “That was a difficult moment for me, and it was a very difficult moment for our family.”
As Solder and his wife Lexi feared, Hudson was diagnosed with cancer – specifically a Wilms tumor on his kidney. Over the next year of cancer treatments, Solder learned a great deal about God and His care for His people.
“I felt a glimpse of the pain that God sacrificed for us when He gave up His one and only son,” Solder said. “That was a very big moment in my faith journey to see that, for Him to show us that. We’re so thankful that He’s carried us through all of that.”
Solder was no stranger to cancer prior to Hudson’s diagnosis after his own bout with testicular cancer in 2014. He didn’t miss any time on the field. During his career with the Patriots, Solder has proven himself as a key protector of New England’s quarterback Tom Brady.
Hudson is doing better now. A few days ago, doctors removed the port that they used to administer chemo. They’ll continue to monitor Hudson in the days ahead. The long-term outlook for Wilms tumor patients is positive, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Solder’s New England teammates recently selected him as the team’s recipient for the Ed Block Courage Award, given to a player from each NFL team for his sportsmanship and courage.
For Solder, who will play in his third Super Bowl on Feb. 5, the trial with Hudson seems to have put a new lens on life.
“We get caught up in our own personal issues, our own personal pains and sufferings, and we forget that there’s a lot of other people out there that are suffering,” he told BP. “We have an opportunity to help those people and not to get lost in our own pain.”
Zach Hummer, the student pastor at Church of Emmanuel in Foxboro, Mass., where the Solders attend, can affirm how they’ve used Hudson’s sickness as a means of ministering to others.
“They’ve seen it as a way to tell people about how good God is and how He provides, to show people that in the midst of suffering, they can still trust in God,” Hummer said.
Hummer cited Romans 8:16-17: “The Spirit Himself testifies together with our spirit that we are God’s children, and if children, also heirs – heirs of God and coheirs with Christ – seeing that we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.”
The Solders embody a lot of what that last line is about, Hummer noted. “It’s not just about suffering well in your own life,” he said. “It’s about entering into other people’s suffering, just as Christ would.”
Solder is using his influence as a high-profile athlete, Hummer said, to show people what that looks like.
“I think that gives Nate a lot of credit,” he said. “It breaks down a lot of barriers, and I think that’s afforded him some stage to talk about what he really believes.”
Even through the scariest moments of his life, Solder saw the Lord’s hand at work. He injured his bicep just days before Hudson’s diagnosis. The injury required surgery, and though it sidelined him from football for a while, the relatively minor injury freed him to focus on his family instead of football.
“I think it was totally in the providence of God, as all things are,” he said.
Solder said after they came out publicly about Hudson’s condition, he heard from several parents who resonated with his story.
“That was just one of the many ways that God’s used Hudson’s issue to touch other people’s lives,” Solder said. “I don’t know why God does all of the things that He does, but it’s been an eye-opening experience, for sure.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tim Ellsworth writes for Baptist Press and is an associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn.)