Devon Still flashed a quick smile as he let the world know Wednesday afternoon in Los Angeles that normalcy was on the horizon for his family and, specifically, his 5-year-old daughter, Leah.
"This is the best I've seen her in a long time," Still, a defensive tackle on the Cincinnati Bengals, told ESPN's Hannah Storm from the ESPYS red carpet two hours before the event's live broadcast. "She's almost back to her normal self now."
Leah has spent the past 13 months fighting neuroblastoma, a rare pediatric cancer. In late March she went into remission from the disease, but she has been going through treatments to rebuild her immune system. Still told Storm that doctors tell all patients who have gone through stem-cell treatments, as Leah has, to avoid the public for 90 days. That's why she was unable to make the trip to Los Angeles with her father to receive the Jimmy V. Perseverance Award on Wednesday night.
"She's right around 60 right now, so we've got about 30 more days, and she can be up and about," Still said.
After her father received the award and near the end of his speech, Leah Still appeared on the video screen behind the stage with a message.
"Sorry I couldn't be there everybody, but thank you for supporting me while I beat up cancer," she said.
Leah and her father received the award in recognition of the inspiration they provided people both inside and outside the sports world this past year.
In pleading for those watching Wednesday night's ESPYS to never give up no matter what trying circumstances they may be enduring, Devon Still shared more than he ever has before about the self-titled "nightmare" he and Leah just endured.
From questioning God to regularly pondering late-night, pain-alleviating runs to the liquor store, Still said his emotions ran the gamut this past year. During his seven-minute, 19-second speech after receiving the award, Devon Still was raw in his explanation of what it was like for a parent to watch a child suffer through a serious illness.
"You know, on TV I look like a hero. I look like I'm saving the day, but honestly, y'all are the real heroes," Still said to cancer sufferers and their families. "What I do is easy. I stand in front of people, and I tell them your story. But y'all are the ones that are actually battling cancer and going through rounds and rounds of chemo and radiation, and y'all remain with a smile on y'all's faces.
"And y'all never give up. That's so inspiring, and it helped me on my battle."
Often, early in Leah's fight through Stage 4 neuroblastoma, Still said he would sneak out of the room Leah was staying in at the Children's Hospital of Philadephia and go to the chapel and cry.
"I would ask God, why did He give my daughter this fight? And I would beg Him to give me the fight with death rather than my daughter," Still, in a royal blue suit with a white shirt and black tie, told the audience as he held the curved silver ESPY in his left hand. "The way I looked at it was, I was blessed with the ability to play football, and by the age of 26, I was able to experience things a lot of people don't in their life. And by the age of 4, my daughter hadn't even [begun] to understand what life was all about."
One night, Still said Leah woke him up, making gestures that went from her stomach to his.
"Dad," she said, "I'm taking the cancer out of me, and I'm giving it to you."
"When she said that, I broke down in tears," Still said. "But it wasn't tears of sadness, it was tears of joy because I thought that was a sign from God that He was answering my prayers."
Award presenter LeBron James called the father-daughter duo "the team that inspired [him] the most" this year.
"I'm here today to let y'all [cancer sufferers] know that as long as I have my platform, I'm going to fight for y'all and let y'all know how important y'all's lives are," Still said.
After presenting the award to the Stills, James took to Twitter and mentioned is own daughter in showing support for Leah and Devon.
Leah my daughter Zhuri and I love you!!!! Devon continue to stay strong for her like you've been. #LeahStrong
— LeBron James (@KingJames) July 16, 2015
Although Leah couldn't attend the event, she still was part of a video montage that preceded the award presentation. It included video of her and Still beat-boxing, playing music, dancing and having serious conversations about her disease.
At one point in the montage, Leah asked her dad: "Will I have cancer when I turn 5?"
Leah's birthday was May 5.
A fourth-year player, Still was re-signed by the Bengals to a one-year deal the week Leah went into remission. He said he's on his way back to form, too.
After Storm asked Still about the concern his teammates and coaches had last season about him trying to play through his daughter's harrowing ordeal, he flashed his quick smile and said, "I got my spark back."
"We got over the long haul. We got over that big hump," said Still, whose bearded head was freshly shaved. As he has done throughout Leah's various treatments, he wanted the amount of hair on his head to match what Leah has.
"Although the kid is the one going through the cancer, because they mean so much to you, it feels like you're the one that's going through it," Still said. "But these children, they stay strong throughout the whole battle, and they give us as parents the strength to go on."
He said the nearly 10 months that Leah spent battling the cancer itself were "a nightmare."
Asked by Storm about his speech that was to come later in the evening, Still said he wanted his message to strike a tone similar to what Jim Valvano said during his emotional 1993 ESPYS speech for receiving the Arthur Ashe Courage Award.
"Any obstacle that somebody is going through in life and they feel like they've hit rock bottom -- don't give up," Still said. "There's always a light at the end of the tunnel. When my daughter was first diagnosed, we had no idea how this battle was going to go. But we kept our mindset positive, and we made it to the end."