In December of 1998, the National Hockey League (NHL) and the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) launched a new initiative to raise awareness and monies for hockey’s most important fight. Those last words are not mine – they are written on the NHL Hockey Fights Cancer web site. Why Cancer as a focus?
According to the American Cancer Society, more than 1.6 million new cases of cancer are diagnosed annually in the U.S. Among men, prostate cancer is the most frequently diagnosed type, and among women it’s breast cancer. Lung and colorectal cancers are the second and third most frequently diagnosed cancers in both men and in women. An American man faces a 1 in 2 risk of developing cancer in his lifetime; an American woman, 1 in 3. While survival rates for some cancers are improving, this disease remains the second leading cause of death in the U.S., behind only heart disease.
As the NHL Hockey Fights Cancer website states, “To date, through the Hockey Fights Cancer initiative, the NHL’s US and Canadian charitable foundations and NHL supporters and fans have donated more than $15 million to support national and local cancer research institutions, children’s hospitals, player charities and local cancer organizations.” This includes selling special purple cancer themed shirts, hats and jerseys; as well as auctioning off player and coach game worn apparel. Also, each NHL team hosts its own Hockey Fights Cancer Night in October or early November.
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) October 21, 2015
Who do you fight for? #HockeyFightsCancer
— Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres) October 24, 2015
I have happily participated via the Chicago Blackhawks in the past, achieving the winning bid on an autographed tie and buying my wife a purple Blackhawks warm-up sweater last year. I didn’t do it to get really cool stuff, I did it to honor my father-in-law who passed away in 2014 after a valiant fight with prostate cancer. I also wanted to recognize those closest to me, as well as the strangers who also have fought the fight. However, I honestly never realized how important my passion for hockey is when combined with this adopted cause. Until now.
In what can only be described as an unexpectedly vicious and dirty hit into the boards from behind, I just learned that my beautiful 49 year-old sister, mother to a 10 and 12 year-old, has the “S.O.B.” Cancer as she calls it. I won’t get into details other than to say that there is no cure for this particular aggressive form, and that her life expectancy is months. So not only a hit from behind into the boards, but now a sucker punch while I am down.
She wants me to write, I want her to live.
Look, I am not naive. I recognize that no one is immune from Cancer at any age. Whether losing a child, parent, family member or close friend; Cancer sucks – period. I won’t be the first to watch someone suffer and die from it, and I won’t be the last. Without prompting from me, my sister’s 10 year-old son has dropped out of club gymnastics to take up playing hockey. His Aunt and Uncle could not be happier. Sure, we love the sport and I have the privilege of writing about it, but there is more.
Besides being an awesome sport, hockey offers so much more about life. It is about strength and conditioning. I personally believe hockey players are some of the strongest, toughest athletes around. Some are even described as not human A.K.A. Duncan Keith. Yet even the strongest aren’t immune. Hockey teaches you when to fight back, and when you need to let things go. It focuses you on the importance of leaning on and trusting your teammates, especially when you make a mistake or need help getting back. It reminds you there are consequences to every action. Most importantly, it teaches you about grace when the battle is done. No other sport has bitter foes lining up in a handshake line at the end of a playoff series and recognizing the efforts of all involved. Whether played by a boy or girl, man or woman, that is the definition of class and respect. Who doesn’t ultimately want their children raised like that on and off the ice?
My sister is staying strong and as her teammate, I will fight with her and for her. The gloves are off and I am pissed. I will gladly trade places with her if only I could. It’s what families do when one of their own goes down.
So I ask all of you in my hockey family, please join not just me, but all of us in hockey’s most important fight. If you cannot donate to any organization, then be there for a hug or words of comfort, as any Captain would for his/her mates. Together we can banish this “S.O.B.” to the penalty box for good.
Me: I’m fighting for Felicia, and this fight is far from over.
Rick is fortunate to live off the I-90 hockey corridor where both his beloved Chicago Blackhawks and Rockford IceHogs (aka Baby Hawks) call home. Hockey has been in his blood since the early 1970’s when he saw his first Blackhawks game at the “Old Barn”. His favorite player is Keith Magnuson followed closely by Bobby Hull (old school!). When not covering the greatest sport, he enjoys watching live music and has even been known to join his beloved bands on stage for a song or two. Follow Rick on Twitter via @HawksStrength