NHL adds human touch to campaign against cancer

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The power of storytelling is driving the NHL through the 22nd annual Hockey Fights Cancer campaign with awareness and fundraising initiatives that began Wednesday at noon with the 31 NHL teams participating in a leaguewide social moment through social media channels. It continued Thursday with a social campaign endorsing the American Cancer Society’s tireless work to combat the disease.

In lieu of players and teams showcasing lavender stick tape and wearing Hockey Fights Cancer jerseys during warmups before games, the NHL and ACS created a human touch. A cancer patient chosen by participating teams received a prerecorded video call from a player. A social moment showed the faces of those battling the disease and encouraging others to share who they fight for. 

“To put a personal face on it is so important,” said Howard Byck, senior vice president, corporate and sports alliances at the American Cancer Society. 

Tweet from @penguins: We fight for you, @Kdudders! Katie’s story: https://t.co/ZrprEB5DhL pic.twitter.com/zR4tHwEHdr

Hockey Fights Cancer is a joint initiative from the NHL and NHL Players’ Association that rallies the hockey community to help cancer patients and their families through awareness and fundraising efforts in the United States and Canada during November. It’s a lot different this year due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus delaying the 2020-21 season, with the NHL targeting a start date of Jan. 1, 2021.  

The NHL has showcased how cancer affected Philadelphia Flyers forward Oskar Lindblom, Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Shea Theodore and retired defenseman Kyle Quincey, whose 15-month-old son Axl was diagnosed with Ependymoma, a rare type of tumor of the brain or spinal cord, and had two surgeries to remove it followed by 30 radiation treatments that ended Aug. 20. The disease also took the life of Hockey Hall of Famer Dale Hawerchuk, who died from stomach cancer in August at the age of 57.

Video: How Oskar Lindblom battled back to the ice

The National Cancer Institute is estimating 10,000 more breast and colorectal cancer deaths during the next decade than would have been expected without the coronavirus, about a 1 percent increase in the near 1 million deaths expected from those malignancies in the next 10 years. Patients have been delaying or canceling annual screenings for fear of contracting COVID-19.  

“The statistics are one thing,” Byck said, “but when you can really put a face and a voice to people’s cancer journeys, whether it’s their own cancer journey, whether it’s a loved one, whether it’s a friend, the authentic storytelling and the willingness, frankly, of players to tell their story so openly is really important for us to generate awareness and ultimately to raise funds and to fight cancer. I know this sounds cliché, but cancer doesn’t stop and neither do we, and certainly the NHL has been very supportive in adjusting to our new reality.” 

Hockey Fights Cancer has raised more than $28 million through donations from NHL teams, players and fans, including more than $3.8 million last year. Fans can give by visiting cancer.org/hockey and learn about the HFC Assist youth league fundraising platform at crowdrise.com/acshockeyfightscancer.

The cause hits home for Byck, who has been in remission from large B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma for nearly seven years. What helped keep him going through chemotherapy was watching his son play high school hockey; the therapeutic experience played a major role in his recovery. And contrary to perception, cancer can be prevented. The ACS has worked to encourage practices including avoiding tobacco and overexposure of the sun and living a healthy lifestyle. 

“We just want to make sure that we’re just doing the most we can to get the word out not only about the amazing stories that we talked about … but also using them as a megaphone to try and get the word out not only about raising funds and donating,” Byck said. “We want people to know that they can take control of their own health, especially in the midst of this pandemic.”

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