Super Bowl-bound Hardman's bond with mom strengthened through struggle

Danyell Hardman lights up at the thought of it.

"For me, it's surreal," said Hardman. "I have to sit back sometimes and pinch myself to see if it's really real. Because to me, he's still my little boy."

Hardman is talking about her son Mecole, the Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver getting ready to play in his second Super Bowl in just his second season in the NFL. Even before Mecole was a star quarterback at Elbert County High School, and well before his days making big plays in Athens, Danyell Hardman says Mecole always had big dreams.

"He was so competitive, he had his middle brother and his dad and his uncle to look up to," said Danyell Hardman. "For him ... it was football."

As Mecole was dreaming of the NFL during his high school days, however, his mom started experiencing some strange symptoms. She'd have headaches and weird spells during the day.

"You know sometimes you daydream, well that's what I was having," said Danyell Hardman.

Doctors diagnosed her with a meningioma: a non-cancerous brain tumor that can affect people in a lot of different ways. That's when, to hear Danyell tell it, Mecole jumped into action.

"It was a lot for me because I didn't really understand what was going on at that time, having a brain tumor," said Danyell Hardman. "When we found out what it was, he kind of really clung [to me]. He was there from the beginning, when they took me to the hospital he stayed when I had surgery. After the tumor was removed, he got his learners license. I had a seizure driving back from a funeral. They stopped me from driving. He had got his learners that was like heaven for him. He got to drive me around, he got a chance to drive me around for a couple weeks."

Danyell Hardman had that tumor removed in 2013, and with time and support from her entire family, she got better. Danyell admits, though, that she didn't go for regular check-ups as much as she should've. About a month ago, Danyell got some scary news, and waited to tell Mecole about it until they were together in person after one of his recent Chiefs games.

"I didn't want to tell him over the phone, because I know how sensitive he is when it comes to me," said Danyell Hardman. "Very sensitive when it comes to me. I took him in the room, and I was getting ready to tell him, and he was like, 'your tumor is back, isn't it?' I was like, 'how did you know?'"

Danyell Hardman said she wanted to reassure Mecole that this time would be better, and doctors told her the treatment would not be as intense. 

"I was like, 'I don't want you to worry, it's not as bad as it was the first time,'" said Danyell Hardman. "'Stay focused on football, on your career, because I'm good.'"

Danyell said her doctors are using radiation as treatment this time. She started that treatment this week -- the week of the Super Bowl. Danyell has not decided if she is going to attent the big game in person in Tampa, Florida; though her doctors have said she can travel if she feels up to it.

Danyell Hardman is confident she'll be back to full health soon, and says the experience is a reminder of the importance of family bonds, including with her Super Bowl-bound son.

"It made me feel good to know, when push comes to shove, he's going to be there for momma," said Danyell Hardman.