In January of 2015, Henry Burneson was a 16-year-old junior in high school with a bright future ahead of him. A state-champion rower, Henry had a passion for cooking and was known by family and friends for his warm personality and sense of humor.
Then, shortly after returning home from a New Year's ski trip in Vermont, Henry received news from doctors that instantly changed his life: a diagnosis of acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL), the most common form of childhood cancer.
Initially, Henry was expected to undergo a three-year chemotherapy course of treatment process, but after further testing, doctors discovered the leukemia was aggressive and would require a bone-marrow transplant and extensive stay at Washington, D.C.'s, Children's National Health System. Wanting to know more about Henry's condition, the family turned to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society for information.
Following his diagnosis, Henry's mother Heather Burneson recalls Henry setting the tone for his path to recovery by taking a matter-of-fact approach to figuring out how to make the most out of each day. Organizations including Make-A-Wish, Hope for Henry, Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and Flashes of Hope also helped ease his burden and provide a distraction.
Through Make-A-Wish, Henry was set to make a trip to meet television host Jay Leno and receive a tour of Leno's extensive car collection, which was one of Henry's passions.
However, on October 16, after more than 240 days in the hospital, Henry passed away before his wish could be fulfilled.
Although Henry did not get to experience the journey, Heather said the opportunity was still able to provide him with an outlet.
"What Make-A-Wish does is give you a chance to dream about all the possible adventures you can take or people you can meet," Heather said. "Henry couldn't go to school at all when he was in the hospital, so Make-A-Wish was the promise of what he could do when he was well enough to leave the hospital."
In addition to Make-A-Wish, Flashes of Hope, a nonprofit that raises funds to accelerate a cure for children's cancer while honoring the unique life and memories of every child fighting cancer through photography, also assisted the Burneson family.
"Flashes of Hope came in and took some beautiful, extraordinary pictures of him with his dad and on his own," Heather said. "At the time we were just going to capture a period of his life that we hoped would come and go, and then he'd be on to his normal life. In retrospect those pictures are precious because they really are the last portraits we have of him."
The Burneson's were also impacted by Hope for Henry, which is an organization that creates fun activities and empowers children with cancer and other serious illnesses to actively participate in their own care by awarding them with tokens for reaching certain accomplishments.
For Henry, since he had been in the hospital for so long, he had accumulated enough tokens to exchange for any gift he wanted.
But instead of buying a gift for himself, Henry wanted to get a gift for someone else.
"About two to three weeks before he passed away, Henry was still communicating a little bit," Heather said. "He asked if he could buy his girlfriend a necklace for her birthday. It was so Henry to want to give to others even as his body was beginning to shut down. We gave it to her when it arrived two weeks after he passed away, so Hope for Henry has a lot of meaning for us."
Flashes of Hope, Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and Hope for Henry are four of five beneficiaries of the Capitals' Hockey Fights Cancer campaign running throughout the month of November, designed to assist those like the Burneson's who have been impacted by cancer. Pancreatic Cancer Action Network also will receive funds raised throughout the campaign.
Hockey Fights Cancer is a league-wide initiative founded by the NHL and NHL Players' Association, and is dedicated to raising awareness for national and local organizations involved in cancer care and research.
The Capitals will host their Hockey Fights Cancer night, #CapsFightCancer, on Thursday, Nov. 2, against the New York Islanders, featuring a ceremonial puck drop, in-game elements and additional tributes.
Fans can purchase custom-made lavender T-shirts in honor of #CapsFightCancer online, and show their support for those fighting cancer by holding up "I Fight For" signs during a designated timeout, as well as by sharing their stories on social media platforms by using the #CapsFightCancer hashtag.
Lavender is the official color of the Hockey Fights Cancer campaign, as it represents all forms of cancer.
Players will wear lavender warmup jerseys, while coaches and broadcast personalities will wear lavender ties.
Through Thursday, Nov. 30, the Capitals and Monumental Sports & Entertainment Foundation will auction off items including the signed warm-up jerseys, autographed game-used hockey sticks with lavender tape, signed, limited-edition Hockey Fights Cancer pucks, two Hockey Fights Cancer-themed and autographed goalie masks worn during HFC Night, a team-signed Hockey Fights Cancer practice jersey, and a team-signed lavender Hockey Fights Cancer flag.
All proceeds of the auction will benefit the #CapsFightCancer beneficiaries.
The Capitals also will host 11-year-old Bethesda, Md., native Dariush, as part of his Make-A-Wish Mid-Atlantic wish. Dariush will meet the team following practice on Nov. 1 and participate in a ceremonial puck drop on Nov. 2, among other activities.
Following #CapsFightCancer Night, the organization will host children and their families from all beneficiaries during practice on Nov. 3, followed by a skating session.
Later in the month, the team also will visit the art therapy room and oncology units at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital.
Heather, who following Henry's experiences became donor development manager for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, said what the Capitals do throughout the season to support initiatives such as Hockey Fights Cancer can make a significant impact on its beneficiaries.
"There are two things that come from the partnership with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and the Capitals," Burneson said. "Number one is being the recipient of the donations because that obviously helps us with our mission. The other thing that is really important for us is to get our name out there so that families know that we exist and that we can help them."
Through charitable fundraising efforts, Burneson said organizations such as the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society have been able to lead research that has led to the number of children who survive ALL for five years from three percent in the 1970s, to 90 percent in the present day.
With those kinds of significant strides in the fight against childhood cancer, and the awareness that initiatives such as Hockey Fights Cancer bring to childhood cancer, it's Burneson's hope that one day 100 percent of children with ALL will be cured.
For additional information and to participate in MSE Foundation's auction, click here.