As part of Hockey Fights Cancer Month, NHL.com will profile people in the game who have been impacted by cancer. Today, Washington Capitals forward Jakub Vrana talks about how his mother’s battle with cancer in her lymph nodes continues to inspire him.
Jakub Vrana has always viewed the Hockey Fights Cancer Month activities each November as his opportunity to bring positive vibes to those who are fighting or have fought the disease.
The Washington Capitals forward remembers how important a positive mindset was to his mother Jana Vranova after she was diagnosed with cancer in her lymph nodes five years ago.
“As I know from my experience, it’s a good thing,” Vrana said from Sweden, where he’s training while awaiting word on when training camp for the 2020-21 season will begin. “So when I’m talking to the people when we have the skate or visit them at the hospital, I haven’t been through it, but I have experience in my family.”
There are no Hockey Fights Cancer skates or hospital visits this November because of the coronavirus pandemic. But like the other NHL teams, the Capitals are using the month to highlight stories of individuals who have been impacted by the disease.
Vrana was happy to share the story of his mother, whose courage during her battle continues to inspire him three years after she was declared cancer-free. The 24-year-old was 19 and playing for Linkopings in the Swedish Hockey League in 2015 when his half-sister Jana Krizova called with the bad news from the Czech Republic. Their mother had discovered a bump under her arm while she was showering. Tests revealed she had cancer in her lymph nodes, and she needed surgery to remove cancerous lumps from her neck and under her arms.
Vrana immediately called his mother and told her he was coming home.
“The first thing she told me was she wanted me to play. She didn’t want me to come,” Vrana recalled. “She wanted me to play because she said she is the happiest person when she sees me play hockey.”
Vrana was torn because he wanted to be there to support his mother, his father Karel and his half-sister, whose father Jarolsav Kriz had died from throat cancer years earlier. Knowing his mother was watching him from afar became his motivation to give his best effort in every game.
“I mostly played for her,” Vrana said. “Even now when I play for Washington and she’s watching the games I know she’s still watching and that makes her happy, that makes her feel positive. She’s a strong woman and that makes her feel happy and she doesn’t think about (cancer). She’s just happy. She knows her son plays for Washington or in Sweden or wherever. She’s watching me and that’s when she’s happiest.”
Vranova lost her hair during chemotherapy treatments but never lost her determination to survive. Vrana always believed she would.
“I just knew right away she was going to beat it because I just believed in her. I just saw it,” he said. “When I was lying in bed at night, I was thinking about it a lot that I know my mom, she’s a really strong woman and she will beat it.”
Vranova, now 55, has regular checkups to make sure the cancer has not returned. Knowing she’s healthy, Vrana appreciates the perspective her battle provided.
“When this came it was really hard for me,” Vrana said. “You kind of open your eyes into life how important your family is and how important your closest ones are. It’s not an easy situation, but at that moment you need the closest ones around you to support you, have a strong mindset, have a positive mindset, find a way to live your life happy.”
That’s why Vrana understands well the importance of supporting initiatives such as Hockey Fights Cancer, which was founded by the NHL and NHL Players’ Association in 1998, and other cancer charities. That’s why he didn’t hesitate to say yes when longtime Capitals television analyst Craig Laughlin asked him to attend a fundraiser for the Laughlin Family Foundation in February. Laughlin and his wife Linda started the foundation to benefit underfunded and rare cancers after Linda was diagnosed with uterine serous carcinoma, a rare form of endometrial cancer, in 2018.
“I obviously knew the story with Craig’s wife, and when he asked me if I can show up, I didn’t wait a second. I said, ‘Of course, I can,'” Vrana said. “Of course, it’s because of my mom, my family, but at the same time it’s doesn’t just have to be because of that. It’s a good cause. … You’re doing a good thing not just for yourself but for the people around you.”