PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Phil Mickelson leaned to his left and shared a quick word with the little girl.
“See, it’s not easy signing autographs that much, huh?”
Mickelson is used to it. Rue Andeer, 7, the guest of honor on Wednesday morning during a Kids Zone event, is not.
Pretty soon, those three letters – Rue – had worn her out and put Andeer’s attention elsewhere.
“I like soccer and playing on my Wii,” she said. “A little embarrassing [signing autographs].”
A moment like the one Andeer and Mickelson shared on Wednesday in the Kids Zone presented by Nemours, has been a long, long time in the making.
Andeer was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia in 2015, not long before she turned 3. While it remains one of the most treatable forms of cancer – St. Jude’s cites a 90% cure rate – it is still a grueling and brutal disease to treat.
“It’s gutwrenching to be told your child has cancer,” said Andeer’s mother, Casey Cohen. “We had an amazing team and you just have to get through it.”
Mickelson’s ties to the family go back years. His attorney, Glenn Cohen, is Andeer’s grandfather, and he’s known Rue since she was born. Having familiarity with cancer on a personal level – Mickelson’s wife, Amy, was diagnosed in 2009 – he knows just how difficult the battle can be.
For a child that he shares a close bond with, it wasn’t easy to watch either.
“We just kind of love each other,” Mickelson said to Andeer.
“For 26 months, this girl right here went through a lot and a lot of your friends did, too, and she’s coming out on top and so that’s exciting. She’s gotten through it. But the process is not easy. I’m very impressed with the bravery that she took this head on with.”
Cohen said that Mickelson, a person who Rue calls “Uncle Phil,” was there throughout her battle.
“It was amazing to know, just to know somebody has that kind of celebrity scale and is thinking about her on a daily basis and asking how she’s doing,” she said. “He’s just been there for her throughout the whole process. He’s been amazing.”