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HOCKEY FIGHTS CANCER: YOUR STORY

by Staff Writer / New York Islanders
By Mary Byrnes, mother and caretaker of Cody Byrnes


On December 14, 2008, my son Cody was diagnosed with leukemia. He was just 15 at the time.  His life was ripped out from underneath him. He worked, played soccer and was just starting to enjoy his sophomore year in high school. In just three days, he was starting chemotherapy. After a few months of chemotherapy, it was determined that he was a slow responder and that he would need a stem cell transplant. We were at Schneider's Hospital and actually met a few of the Islanders there.

We switched to NYU Hospital in the city and the family was tested to see if anyone was a donor.  There is only a 25 percent chance a sibling is a match and Cody only has one brother who was in boot camp in the U.S. Army. We all were tested, and no matches were found. The community did a blood drive/donor drive and still there were no matches. He was put in the nationwide registry and we found two cord blood matches (umbilical cords).

Cody was transferred to Memorial Sloan Kettering for his transplant on June 4, 2009. After a few months (66 days) and several scary complications, we were able to go home. His recovery was (and still is) very slow and the complications landed us back in the hospital several times a month.

As Cody's primary caretaker, I found it easier to send out updates on his progress via email. Through the email grapevine, my email reached the mailbox of (Islanders sales executive) Jeff Picker. He then forwarded our case to Ann Rina and the next thing I knew, she had invited us to Islanders Fight Cancer night. She told me they wanted to know if Cody could do the puck drop at the Islanders/Rangers game on Oct. 28. Cody was in the hospital, but we got a special pass and were able to leave for the night.

We arrived at the Coliseum and met Jeff and Ann at the entrance. Cody was on Cloud 9! They had a jersey for him with his name and favorite number on it and the cameras started flashing.  We went downstairs to see the players before they left for the ice. It was amazing. Cody's smile was beaming. It was his time to walk on the ice and I was praying for an uneventful walk! He did it and was front and center and face to face with his idol player, Richard Park.

I honestly do not know how he did it! We enjoyed the entire game and then went downstairs to see the players. Cody was interviewed and one by one, the players came out and signed his jersey and chatted with him. Each player was personable and very interested in Cody and made him feel like the star. The players took time to chat with him and meet him. Richard Park came out and had a jersey and a stick for Cody. The look on Cody's face was priceless. He got a signed stick from John Tavares that night too.

The fun continued well past that night. Whenever Cody was strong enough and not in the hospital, we were invited to the games and hung out after the games with the players. We went to a game with my other son and his wife and they all met everyone too. He just graduated and is now a U.S. ARMY RANGER. Ann invited us to a practice and Cody got to hang out in the locker room.

Each and every time we left, he was speechless in the car. He could not believe that he now had friends on the Islanders hockey team. This was an extremely tough time, being a teenager and dealing with leukemia. Life was never the same. The one thing Cody had to look forward to was the games and being with all those at the Coliseum.

He is always treated with huge hellos from everyone there. He was at his best mentally when he was in the Coliseum. He became friends with Richard (Park) and his family off the ice and they continue to keep in touch, which keeps his spirits up. We will definitely miss him this season. Cancer changes you in ways you cannot imagine.

We have seen the good in so many people and it is really nice these days, with all that is going on in our world. Cody is due to graduate (high school) this year and hopes to pursue a degree in sports management and work right along with the team. It has been a truly rewarding and enriching experience and we love our Islanders family. We are looking forward to the season. Let's Go Islanders!

To sumbit your Cancer story please click here for more information. Thank you.

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