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Hockey Fights Cancer Night serves as celebration, inspiration

Rousing rendition of national anthem highlights a special night in Nationwide Arena

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

Friday night was a memorable night in Nationwide Arena, and not just because of Zach Werenski's overtime winner.  

The annual Hockey Fights Cancer Night celebration, presented by OhioHealth, featured plenty of inspiration, and yes, the words celebration and inspiration are appropriate in this case even while dealing with the topic of cancer. The game served as a chance to celebrate those fighting, inspire everyone to get involved and remember fondly those who have been lost.  

So how can something as inconsequential in the big picture as a hockey game serve as something so important? Here are three stories. 

Video: It's our commitment. Our obligation. Our honor.

The star 

Sporting a shaved head, Molly Oldham took the ice at Nationwide Arena with a smile on her face. 

But it's hard to find the 18-year-old from Bath, Ohio, without a smile, even during one of the toughest times of her life. In August, after months of headaches and other symptoms, she was diagnosed with anaplastic ependymoma, and a tennis-ball sized tumor was found on her brain. 

Exactly three months later, she took to the ice Friday night at Nationwide Arena to perform the national anthem.  

"I'm super excited," she said beforehand. "It's special in a lot of different ways." 

Video: Molly Oldham delivers a very special national anthem

Making it even more special was what happened Thursday. Oldham completed her final radiation appointment and was given the privilege of ringing the bell that signifies the end of cancer treatments.  

"It's almost like a celebration, like, 'I did it!'" she said. "And to be here with people who have been through things - we went to Tim Horton's today and I met another girl who had cancer when she was younger, and it's just cool to see how far people have come. She's 16 and she's been cancer-free for 11 years, and that's super cool." 

HOCKEY FIGHTS CANCER: A month-long celebration | Bid on jerseys

It's been a long road, and it's not nearly over. But a prognosis is good, and music has been a constant companion for the budding star, who had planned to be studying musical theatre at the UNC Greensboro right now.  

Over the last few months, Oldham has been serenaded by one of her favorite singers, Broadway star Natalie Weiss, at a benefit. She's performed at the governor's mansion. But Friday night was certainly a unique experience as well, and music has been an inspiration when times have been toughest. 

"Everyone I've met through performing has been such a backbone for me in this journey," she said. "I love to sing, but honestly, the people I've met from my love of performing, it's been something I just could not live without. With or without cancer, they are my life." 

Hockey might soon become part of it as well. After belting out an amazing rendition of the anthem that left more than a few eyes watering throughout the arena, Oldham spent the rest of the night celebrating with her family and friends. That included a chance to meet members of the Blue Jackets team after the game, and Oldham was beaming as she got ready to leave. 

"I had the time of my life," she said. 

The fans 

You couldn't miss Seth and Sarah Roberts as they walked through the concourse before the game at Nationwide Arena. 

Sporting identical lavender Hockey Fights Cancer-inspired Blue Jackets jerseys and identical CBJ-branded HFC stocking caps, the couple from London, Ohio, was equally ready to root on their favorite team and recognize the theme of the evening. 

It's a celebration that hits home for the pair. Two years ago, Sarah was diagnosed with stage 4 cervical cancer. Her tumors will never go away as part of the incurable cancer, but the good news is they haven't spread anywhere else on her body.  

She's vowed to keep on fighting with all she has, and the couple's love of the Blue Jackets have been there along the way. The two bought the lavender jerseys shortly after she was diagnosed, and they now make sure to attend the Hockey Fights Cancer game each season, even having their CBJ ticket rep swap it out for another game if it's not part of their quarter season package. 

"This night means a lot to both of us," Sarah said. "When I was first diagnosed and I started on heavy chemo, I wasn't feeling good early on, and we'd put on the Jackets and watch." 

Cancer has impacts on people in a variety of different ways. For the Roberts family, it has shown just how precious life can be -- and how important every moment of life is.  

"It changed me because instead of always looking at the bad side of things and maybe being angry, now you look at it and say, 'Why are so many people so angry all the time?'" Seth Roberts said. "You have not a clue what life has in store for you. You don't have a clue. So why be mad? Be happy about everything you've got because in the blink of an eye it can be gone. Then what are you going to do? Every time you think you have a setback, put a smile on your face, get up, and go do what you have to do.  

"As long as you're living, cancer is not winning. Cancer only wins when you give up. If you die and you die fighting, it didn't win. It can take your body, but it cannot take your mind, your heart and your soul." 

The heroes 

As Cameron Leang walked out on to the ice at Nationwide Arena before the game, he had a distinct feeling. 

"It's crazy," the Pataskala native said. "You're standing out there and your legs turn to Jello." 

Video: CBJ Heroes join starters before the game

Leang is one of six young cancer heroes who have become part of the Blue Jackets family this year. Five -- the 14-year-old Leang as well as 16-year-old Sophia Lewis, 12-year-old Trey Hodge, 9-year-old Evan White and 8-year-old Elyanna Bayler -- were recognized at Friday night's game. The other, 11-year-old Reese Shirey, was able to meet with Blue Jackets players Thursday at Nationwide Children's Hospital but unable to attend the game as she continues her treatment. 

The heroes were treated as such during the game, including a chance to watch warmups from the Blue Jackets bench, be part of the pregame fist bump tunnel with players and an on-ice recognition before the game in front of the sellout house that left Leang's legs feeling a little weak. 

The heroes and their families then watched the game from one of the party towers in the corner of the arena. For Leang, that meant his three siblings -- though not the family dog -- and parents were all in attendance. 

It's been a whirlwind month for the Leang and the Blue Jackets. As he continues to fight leukemia, he was part of the team's Flashes of Hope campaign earlier this month and spent Friday night at the forefront of one of the most inspiring nights of the season.  

"It's been amazing," he said of Blue Jackets' efforts. "Almost all of it, except for the pictures. I hate pictures, but other than that, it's been pretty good. It's pretty great that the players spend that time interacting with us." 

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