TEMPE, Arizona. Hector Nale Jr. stepped out of the shower in his room at the Zambrano Hellion Hospital in Monterrey, Mexico around 5 a.m. on November 30, 2020 and was almost ready. The then 12-year-old boy was only an hour away from being taken to the operating room to have a tumor removed and 10 centimeters of his right fibula removed three months after he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer that is common in teenagers.

The psychologist advised Hector to bring something from home that could inspire and comfort him.

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He chose red jersey Arizona Cardinals Kyler Murray.

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Hector has been a fan of Murray since the quarterback was in college in Oklahoma. He studied Murray’s best moments by watching a short quarterback like himself, climbing and playing.

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Hector may or may not be able to see Murray play those games Monday night when the Cardinals play the San Francisco 49ers at Azteca Stadium in Mexico City (8:15 pm ET, Sportzshala). It’s not yet decided if Murray, who missed Sunday’s victory over the Los Angeles Rams with a hamstring injury, will play Monday.

Either way, Hector is expected to be at the stadium to meet Murray, who surprised his young fan with an Instagram post on Friday saying he was flying him and his family to Mexico City and giving them tickets to the game.

In Murray, Hector saw the footballer he wanted to grow up to be in Torreon, Mexico, about an hour and 15 minutes flight to Mexico City. After the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the 5ft 4in Hector watched more videos of Murray from his days at Allen High School (TX) during his tenure with the Cardinals. The more Hector watched, the more he compared his game to Murray’s and the more he learned.

Murray quickly became Hector’s favorite player. Murray also helped him cope with cancer.

A couple of days before the operation, Hector’s mother, Luz Maria Herrera, told her only son to keep a positive attitude.

“I told my mom, ‘Mom, when you bring Kyler Murray into the room, we’ll talk,'” Hector recalled.

She couldn’t do it, but offered to make a video, post it to Instagram, and tag Murray. But Hector hesitated. During radiation therapy, his hair fell out and his face was swollen. He didn’t look or feel like the boy who posted videos of him hitting the corner during a QB scramble for his small team.

But on the morning before the operation, he decided on it. Hector put on a Murray jersey, sat on the hospital bed and looked into the camera.

“Hey Kyler. I’m going to go to my operating room and I hope we meet one day because you’ll be my inspiration for recovery and I’m your #1 fan,” Hector said.

The video was 12 seconds long. At 6 am he was taken to the operation. The video was posted by his mother.

HECTOR’S PAIN HAS STARTED spring 2020. He noticed it when he was running, pain in the muscles of his right calf. For Hector’s parents, the pain was not a surprise. Hector had a tumultuous year before the pandemic, playing a full season in the fall of 2019 before heading to Los Angeles to work one-on-one with quarterback coach Mike Evans in early 2020. His parents told him that this pain was just a side effect of playing football.

Hector went to massages and therapy, but nothing helped. In August 2020, his father, Hector Sr., offered to take an x-ray to make sure he had a broken bone.

Doctors suspected that they saw a tumor. After the biopsy, the Nale family received the news they feared: Hector Jr. had cancer.

At first, his mother didn’t believe him.

“Why is this happening to us, because we are religious people and they told you that if you are good, good things will happen to you. And if you stay like this, what did I do wrong to have it?” Herrera said. “So instead of thinking about it, I thought, ‘I think God has chosen us for something because we’re a family that has a purpose, but we have to find it.’

The only thing Hector Jr. knew about cancer at the time was that his grandfather died of melanoma in 2005, a few years before he was born.

“First you think about cancer, about death and weakness,” Hector Jr. said. “Sometimes at night I thought I was going to die. I was very scared.”

As did his father. Memories of how his father suffered from cancer and eventually died of it flooded over Hector Sr.

The family was disconnected from the rest of the world for a while. They weren’t as sociable and cut back on work. Herrera’s staff at her dance studio helped her cover up.

“It’s nice to feel that you have the support of the people around you,” she said.

But their first doctor made a disturbing suggestion: he said the family should find a psychologist who could prepare Hector Jr. for the worst. In the first week of September 2020, the family sought a second opinion from a doctor in Monterrey, about a four-hour drive from Torreon, who specialized in tumors and limb preservation, and an oncologist who specialized in osteosarcoma.

The message was quite different: Hector Jr. would be fine, as would his leg.

But even with the better news, another thought crept into Hector’s mind: he doubted whether he would ever play football again.

HECTOR TREATMENT PLAN called for chemotherapy, surgery, and then more chemotherapy for nine months.

His treatment took place in two-week cycles. On Tuesday, his family had a three-hour drive to a hospital in Monterrey to donate blood and check his lungs. He then began five days of chemotherapy on Wednesday. On Mondays they returned to Torreon to begin a four-day course of recovery from chemotherapy. If Hector did not vomit, then he would feel sick and exhausted.

Despite all this, Hector set a goal for himself: he wanted to be cancer-free by the time he was 13 years old.

His father installed a video game console upstairs so that Hector would have a special place to play. After returning home from the hospital for the first time, he tried to run up the stairs. He took three steps before he nearly collapsed from exhaustion.

Video games helped Hector pass the time and keep in touch with friends. Hector played extensively in the Madden NFL and was usually Murray and the Cardinals before moving into career mode – 5ft 10in and 200lb like Murray.

“I was very connected to him,” Hector said. “He helped me a lot to get through that pain.”

For 10 cycles of chemotherapy, Hector and his family made disks, and he underwent a course of treatment and recovery. When Hector felt good, he went to school virtually. But in a few days he will return to the hospital for re-treatment.

When Hector looked in the mirror after his hair fell out, the reality of what he had gone through came true.

“I thought, ‘That’s not me,’” Hector said. “That was what I was like, ‘What the hell? because it was not the same child that I knew. I was strong. I was a sports guy and all of a sudden I just changed. It’s pretty weird and sad.”

WHEN HECTOR WAKE UP After getting up after the operation, he checked Instagram and saw that the video he posted had amassed several views: about 50,000, he recalls. But one thing was missing: a message from Murray.

Because Murray had 1.3 million followers, Hector and his mom knew it was unlikely that Murray would see the video without help. After some investigation, they found Murray’s clothing brand’s Instagram account and figured out who he followed, which led them to Murray’s manager, Avery Johnson Jr., who helped them.

On December 10, 2020, Murray sent a 40-second video to Hector.

“First of all, I want to say, you are a warrior, bro. You inspire me as much as I inspire you, man. You have inspired all of us. Can’t wait to meet you,” Murray said in part.

He added that whenever Hector fully recovered, he wanted to fly with him and his family to Murray’s hometown of Dallas to get some routes, eat and socialize. Murray also sent Hector an autographed, used T-shirt and some of his brand’s clothing.

As of November 2022, Hector’s video has nearly 86,000 views and nearly 12,000 likes.

Standing at the Cardinals’ training facility in Tempe on Wednesday, Murray marveled at the power of social media: Hector was able to connect to his favorite player.

“I probably would never have been able to do that and get the attention of Michael Vick or anyone I looked up to,” Murray said.

This made Hector’s message even more special to Murray. He remembers what it was like to look up to a professional athlete, to want to meet him and be him. Being the person Hector looks up to, wants to meet and wants to be like is part of his job.

And it’s amazing, Murray said.

“I don’t take any of this for granted,” he said. “Just try to be a great person on and off the field, lead by example and just be a leader, let people follow me…

“The opportunity to watch the video, he addresses me, his family, does everything that I can do. Obviously, anytime you can do that is great.”

Hector watched Murray’s video about 50 times, and receiving a package from Murray cheered him up. He did not allow anyone to touch the shirt, even to the point that he slept in it.

“He’s in my room,” Hector said. “No one touches. Only me.”

A smile flickered across Murray’s face as he remembered Hector, who carried a tank top with him in bed.

“It obviously means a lot to him, so I can do anything for him,” Murray said. “When I finally meet him, my dream will become a reality, and not only for him, but for me, I will actually be able to meet him, talk to him and get to know his family.

“He still beats me. He writes to me. He says, “Don’t forget about me.”

Murray does not.

AFTER HECTOR SURGERY thinking has changed. He borrowed a phrase from Eric Berry, a former NFL player…