This column appears as the cover story in the December 1st, 2017 print edition of St. Louis Game Time. Ordinarily, stories in the paper are not reprinted on the website, but this special event called for an exception to that policy.
I am an incredibly fortunate anomaly. I’ve had trials and tribulations in my life and I’ve lost loved ones to various illnesses and incidents, but the scourge of cancer has largely avoided those who I hold the dearest.
My grandmother’s second husband died of lung cancer about three weeks before I was born. That same grandma had a troublesome spot removed from her colon about five years ago. In 2015, I lost an uncle to leukemia. Other than that, I’ve been lucky.
Tonight, then, when St. Louis stands up for those whom they fight for and when Hockey Fights Cancer takes center stage, I wanted to reach out to the readers to gather their perspectives and stories.
I made a brief announcement on Twitter and opened my direct messages, and I was floored by the response. Fans from quite literally around the globe, let alone the country, let me know that they had things to say. One of the most powerful tools we each possess is our voice, and when given the opportunity, we should claim it. I’m honored to be able to provide that opportunity to some people in this column.
From Liz (@strgto) –
“[Hockey Fights Cancer is] probably my favorite NHL collective event. I was diagnosed in the fall of 2008 with lymphoma. Lost about what to do, I of course turned to the internet. That's when I found the Hockey Fights Cancer nights. Seeing the ‘I Fight For’ signs and the cancer survivors, it gave me hope.
“In 2010, I found out the cancer was in remission and now I have been cancer free for 7 years. I finally got to go to my first Hockey Fights Cancer night a few years ago and received a pin with the logo, I treasure that pin. Side note, I am a closet Kings fan because of their HFC shirts one year "Kings F Cancer" I wish I could have bought one of those shirts, because that's how I felt and still feel about cancer.
“Every HFC game is difficult because of those we have lost too soon, but it also is still amazing to see all the fighters and their supporters, giving everyone the hope that one day cancer will get ‘f'd.’”
From Connor (@Con_Bon4) –
“I think these Hockey Fights Cancer nights are great. Mostly everyone has been affected by cancer and these nights bring in great money for research but also a chance honor those who have fought and won, those currently fighting, and unfortunately those we've lost.
“My dad got diagnosed with Cancer in 2014. He was in and out of the hospital for months and spent 5 days in the ICU with septic shock. The thought of not having him around was very real and very scary. Luckily, he (and my mom as his caretaker) fought his ass off and won. He is one of my best friends and we love just sitting and watching sports together.
“We were lucky enough to go to the Winter Classic this past January. It was the coolest sporting event I have ever been to and it was all the more special that I got to spend it with my Dad. These nights always give me a chance to think about him and everyone else I know who has gone through this terrible disease.”
From Danielle (@gerbatron) –
“When my aunt died from breast cancer hockey was my outlet. I dived in further than I had ever in the five years preceding her passing and became borderline obsessive. Watching games I didn’t even care about, wrote articles for no reason, did tons of research. Hockey got me through one of the worst times in my life and I’ll always be thankful for the community I had during that time.
“It's been two years (coming up on the 17th) and hockey is still kind of my therapy for it. My dad still enjoys watching games with me. It’s cool knowing that people on the other side of the world care about personal experiences of mine and can relate and give me advice. I love it. I’ll never not appreciate what hockey did for me.”
From Sandra (@meegat) –
“I live in the UK - sports don't do this over here. It blew me away - I stay up till 3:30am watching games (obviously not EVERY game). Last year I went through chemotherapy for breast cancer - couldn't stay up etc. And getting a tweet from the Blues on #HockeyFightsCancer night was such a wonderful boost.”
From Gregg (@greggr5) -
I fight for my 30 yr old daughter, mother of 3, recently diagnosed with breast cancer. We will win!
From Sarah (@bergersteen) –
“Fuck you, cancer. Give us Ari back.”
Sarah’s sentiment is one that’s been widely felt in St. Louis. Arianna Dougan, an 11-year-old girl who traveled with the Blues last year thanks to a generous gift from Vladimir and Yana Tarasenko, passed away after a long fight with cancer on the 11th of November.
Ari’s presence was felt strongly around the team, and her predilection toward glitter and bright colors will be seen in the iridescent numbers on the Blues’ warm up jerseys tonight. Chris Pinkert, who handles a variety of social media and web responsibilities for the team, included this passage in the article bearing his name which was posted following her death.
“The world is a sadder place without Ari, but we're thankful to have gotten to know her and to have given her a distraction from her battle with cancer, if only for a few days. Her road trip was supposed to create lasting memories for her, but it ended up meaning the world to us.”
I’ve struggled with the proper way to express grief for a person I didn’t know but who meant so much to the community. If you listened to Wednesday’s Game Time Drive Time podcast, you heard me express discomfort with the extent to which Ari’s story has been personalized and some of the public grieving that I’ve borne witness to.
It didn’t take much introspection for me to recognize that that discomfort comes from my own struggles. To acknowledge the sadness and despair of others for something that’s so evidently and inarguably cruel and unfair has been, to me, to give that sadness power, and I’ve been trying to fight that instinct.
Some readers and listeners reached out to me to let me know they appreciated and shared in my sentiments, but in each case, those people had suffered their own losses and fought their own fights. While I’m in no position to speak for them, I can’t help but wonder if the same incomprehension which plagues me may be gnawing at them as well.
There’s hockey to be played tonight and two points on the line. When the pink is put away and the work begins, it will be the job of the 40 men on the ice to shut out the world and compete the way that they’ve done for the majority of their lives.
For those in the stands, however, it won’t be so simple. I have no doubt that the ceremonies and remembrances conducted by the team will echo throughout the building for the duration of the game, and I’m certain there will be those in attendance who feel themselves overwhelmed by the emotion of what they’re watching.
I’m even confident I’ll be among them. Not because I’m concerned about losing the person I fight for (my ex’s mother, Jane, is a breast cancer survivor, and I still love her dearly), but because I know that I’ll never know the fights being fought by every face around me in the crowd.
If you’re fighting, we’re proud of you. If you’re not, someone needs you to. The community of hockey will be happy to welcome you in either way.