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Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman have essentially been linked since the Braves took them both within the first two rounds of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. They rose to Minor League stardom together and rose to the Major League level within five months of each other during the 2010 season.

A pair of physically imposing 23-year-old veterans, Heyward and Freeman could be featured in the middle of the Braves’ lineup for many years to come. Their journeys have been quite similar, including the fact that both of them have already experienced the horror of watching a loved one lose their battle against cancer.

Heyward has never forgotten the aunt who succumbed to lung cancer during his childhood. And over the past 12 years, Freeman has never gone through a day without thinking about his mother, Rosemary, who died of melanoma when the Braves first baseman was just 10 years old.

“When you lose a mother or father, it’s still the hardest time of your life,” Freeman said earlier this year. “All we can do is think about her and all of the positives and have fun with it. We know she’s watching. So all we can do is make her proud up there.”

Cancer is a destructive disease that does not discriminate. It has the power to both orphan and afflict children. It has no sympathy for those like longtime Braves broadcaster Pete Van Wieren, who was diagnosed with cutaneous B-Cell lymphoma.

Van Wieren has maintained the fighting spirit promoted by the Stand Up To Cancer Campaign, which Major League Baseball will promote again during this year’s Winter Meetings. “The Professor” was originally diagnosed with cancer in 2009 and again in each of the two years that followed. He felt celebratory pride recently when his doctor informed him that he is cancer-free.

“When you go through something like this, you appreciate good health,” Van Wieren said. “It’s come and gone three times. I know I’m not completely out of the woods, but it feels good to know that I am cancer-free.”

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