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Canucks fight cancer

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks

Cancer affects everyone, even NHL superstars.

Ryan Kesler and Sami Salo are feared on the ice, one for his tenacious, aggressive play and offensive prowess, the other for his blanketing defence and booming slap shot that has been known to break the sound barrier.

Both warriors in their own way, Kesler and Salo are just as human as anyone else when it comes to dealing with cancer, one of the most devastating diseases mankind has ever faced.

In 2007, Kesler’s father Mike was diagnosed with carcinoid cancer, a type of neuroendocrine tumour that attacks the small intestines. Fortunately for the Kesler family, the cancer was treatable. After having surgery, Kesler’s father made a full recovery and has had a clean bill of health since.

“To hear the word cancer, it really doesn’t hit home until it affects somebody you know,” said Kesler. “You really have no control of it. It happens to good people. My dad didn’t ask for it and it just kind of happened.

“It scares you. You don’t know if you’ll ever see him again,” said Kesler, adding that since the surgery to combat his cancer, Mike has done more than survive. He’s thrived.

“He was a heavier-set guy, and now he’s into eating healthy. He walks everyday and he’s being more active. I think it helps him to have a new outlook on life. He used to be a really high-strung guy and now he’s a bit more relaxed. He looks at the big picture now.”

Touched by his family’s close-call with cancer, Kesler has taken a proactive approach against the disease and has been involved in helping a number of charitable events that raise funds for cancer research and has gone on numerous hospital visits to spend time with children with the disease.

“I think it’s really important [to raise awareness],” said Kesler. “It’s a small world. Cancer affects everybody.”

That’s the premise behind Hockey Fights Cancer, an initiative run by the National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players' Association to raise money and awareness to support national and local cancer research institutions, children’s hospitals, player charities and local cancer organizations.

On Sunday, October 25 when Vancouver hosts Edmonton, the Canucks will do their part to support this worthy cause by hosting Hockey Fights Cancer Awareness Night as part of Hockey Fights Cancer Awareness Month.

On the ice the Canucks will continue to sport the Hockey Fights Cancer decal on their helmets that has been there throughout the month, while the coaching staff and broadcasters will wear lavender ties. Lavender represents awareness for all cancers and is the designated color for this year’s initiative.

Three different cancer agencies will be in attendance at GM Place that evening, including Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, outside section 111, Canadian Cancer Society, outside section 102 and Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation, outside section 326.

Several children from the BC Children's Hospital’s Oncology unit will also be on hand as special guests who get to watch the game from Lui’s Crease Club.

Fans interested in learning more on how they can help fight cancer can log on to, or stop by the Canucks team store and pick up a special 2009-10 draft day hat, which features the Hockey Fights Cancer logo embroidered on the side. Ten per cent of profits from the caps go to Hockey Fights Cancer.

To date, Hockey Fights Cancer has raised more than $10.5 million, money that is given directly to national and local organizations involved in cancer care and research.

A cure for cancer has yet to be found, but together we are making a difference and with that comes the hope that someday people won’t have to suffer at the hands of this destructive disease.

When Sami Salo was 18-years-old, his father Topi was diagnosed with stomach cancer.

“It took me two to three weeks to really understand what was actually happening,” Salo recalled. “My mom and older brother were really involved with the process and had a lot of help from programs at the hospital.”

After only four months, Salo’s father passed away.

“Helping out charities that raise funds for cancer research is something I always try to do. Cancer takes so many lives and it’s important to raise funds for research to help find a cure.”

Another member of the Canucks family, equipment assistant Brian Hamilton, has also witnessed the devastation of cancer first hand. Hannah Hatlen, Hamilton’s niece, was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour at the age of four and passed away at the age of five.

A good portion of Hannah’s life was spent at Children’s Hospital.

“I can talk forever about how great Children's Hospital is in spite of one of the worst events of my life occurring there,” said Hamilton. “The nurses were amazing and the entertainment and activities helped everyone cope with the situation. They knew what Hannah's restrictions were and all the crafts and games they brought in, she was able to do and play no problem. It was amazing and I will always remember the smiles when I went to see her. They were also amazing to my family and gave us so many resources to deal with the situation.”

Hannah was a girl full of life and brought so much joy to everyone she touched. With the efforts of family and friends, Hannah has continued to inspire and bring happiness to many lives.

Hannah was the inspiration for The Hannah’s Heroes Foundation. The foundation was established in September of 2007 for the purpose of raising awareness and funds into treating pediatric brain cancer. There are few treatments available for children with this type of cancer and very little research goes into this. Their wish is to change that.

“Being involved with Hannah's Heroes helps me deal with the loss of Hannah,” said Hamilton. “I also want to be part of something that one day finds a cure for this disease. I feel proud to have been her uncle and I want her name to live on.”

To find out more about the foundation and Hannah’s story, please visit

The Vancouver Canucks and the National Hockey League would like to thank you for supporting Hockey Fights Cancer.

Special thanks to Stephanie Maniago.

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