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Dedicated Fan Opdyke Leans on Ducks for Inspiration

Cindi and Bryan Opdyke had a wedding last December with a Ducks and hockey theme, but there is much more to Cindi's story

by Jenelyn Russo / Special to

Cindi Opdyke was certain that an NHL game was no place for a girl from South Africa.

So when a friend convinced her to attend an Anaheim Ducks game back in 2008, she felt like she was being, "dragged there by the ears." But once she got inside Honda Center, the Johannesburg native was completely captivated by what she saw.

"I'll never forget the day," Cindi recalls. "It was love at first puck."

Cindi's connection to hockey was instant, and what began as attendance at a few games quickly turned into an insatiable appetite for the sport.

The next year, she became a season seat holder and introduced Ducks hockey to her parents, who became fans and season seat holders as well. She was there for countless games at Honda Center, diligently watched away games on television and listened to radio broadcasts, soaking up the commentary and learning all she could as a student of the sport.

Beyond her growing love for the game, it didn't take long for Cindi to see that Ducks hockey was serving a bigger purpose as a much needed distraction from significant challenges life had brought her way.

In 2005 at the age of 22, Cindi felt a lump in her left leg that she knew didn't belong. After a biopsy, she had surgery, the first of her life, to remove a malignant tumor and 20 lymph nodes, 18 of which had cancer. Following the procedure, Cindi was diagnosed with stage 3B melanoma, an aggressive form of skin cancer with only a 35% survival rate.

Her next steps at UC Irvine Medical Center included daily chemotherapy treatments for one month and chemotherapy injections for one year, a process that took her two years to complete due to reoccurring complications and infections that required her to be hospitalized. Faced with long odds and seemingly endless roadblocks, Cindi never lost the single-mindedness in her fight.

"I always stayed focused on what was ahead of me," Cindi says, "keeping my eyes on the finish line."

Not only did Cindi cross that finish line, but she did so cancer free.

Her journey didn't end there, however. The removal of the lymph nodes from her initial surgery led to the development of lymphedema, a chronic condition that causes pain and swelling in her leg. She's had several moles removed, all in the pre-cancerous stages, a continual and sobering reminder of the need to remain diligent regarding her health.

And since discovering the sport, it's been the joy Ducks hockey brings her that has fueled Cindi's drive and keeps her distracted just enough to continue her fight.

"Hockey has always been something for me to help get my mind off of the other things in my life," Cindi says. "I always look forward to it."

Cindi now has a partner by her side, her husband Bryan, who shares in her love for hockey and helps her navigate her health challenges.

A former standout catcher from Tucson, Arizona, and a USA Baseball bronze medalist, Bryan was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the fifth round of the 2003 MLB Amateur Draft. He spent several years in the minor leagues in both the Brewers and Colorado Rockies systems before relocating to Southern California to become a full-time private youth baseball coach.

Having followed hockey while growing up in Arizona, Bryan had no problem adopting the Ducks as his new hometown team. So when he met Cindi in 2015, many of their early dates were at Honda Center for Ducks games.

"It's always been important to me that he shares my love for hockey, that we have that connection," Cindi says. "It's been a huge blessing."

When the couple became engaged, there was no question hockey would make its way into last December's nuptials. "We knew from day one of our engagement that we would incorporate hockey and the Ducks into our wedding," Cindi says.

With family members arriving from the country, many of whom are hockey fans as well, Cindi and Bryan asked that they each bring along their hockey jerseys to the wedding for a family photo that would honor their love for the game.

"There were a lot of different teams represented there," Cindi says, "but I respect all of my family who loves hockey."

The newlyweds have a new challenge to face regarding Cindi's health, as doctors have found a desmoid tumor, a rare abnormal growth attached to the wall of her stomach. While the tumor is benign, it is inoperable, which has required Cindi to resume chemotherapy treatments in order to keep the large growth from spreading.

That means more days back at UC Irvine Medical Center, often with Bryan at Cindi's side, with their focus on the next finish line. In spite of the physical toll the chemotherapy takes on her body, Cindi rarely misses a Ducks home game, rearranging her appointments to coincide with the team's schedule, and always looking forward to the respite that their time at the rink provides.

"It's like a religion to us," says Cindi, who often has family at the games with her and Bryan. "Honda Center is our home away from home. If the Ducks have a game, I'm going to be there."

The couple's favorite hockey moments come in the form of NHL's Hockey Fights Cancer Night and the Fedorin Cup, annual efforts that support raising money and awareness for cancer research, events that are close to Cindi's heart.

The two are hesitant to name a favorite player on the Ducks roster, as they are fans of the team first, but Cindi quickly points to Ducks center Ryan Kesler, whose never-quit approach and strong work ethic are inspirational to her as she continues her fight.

"I like his attitude, and I can relate to his approach," Cindi says. "I admire him."

Cindi's unexpected journey has shaped much of who she is, even her career path, as her battle has inspired her to become a certified lymphedema specialist and certified massage therapist, working to provide relief to cancer survivors who struggle with the pain and discomfort.

Despite her health challenges, Cindi remains resolute, leaning on Bryan for his unwavering support and Ducks hockey to be that distraction, a light on the dark days. The finish line may keep reappearing, but the goal remains the same.

"All of this stuff that's going on in my life, it seems to never end," Cindi says. "But I'm not going to let it win."


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