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Islanders Fight for a Cure

by Brittany Cole / New York Islanders
As the month of October came to a close, the Islanders wrapped up another successful effort in support of the NHL’s Hockey Fights Cancer Month. Throughout the month, the team once again spread awareness about the fight against cancer by raising more than $15,000 through various initiatives.

On October 25, when the Islanders took on the Pittsburgh Penguins on the ice, the team took on fighting cancer with their fans. It was the Islanders Hockey Fights Cancer game – a culmination of all of the efforts during the month. With cancer affecting so many men, women and children nationally, the Islanders know the importance of assisting those locally on Long Island who are also battling the disease.

“I think more so nowadays, a lot of Long Islanders are being diagnosed with cancer, especially children,” said Islanders community relations manager Ann Rina. “We think it’s a very important issue and a disease that needs to be cured.”

The Islanders Hockey Fights Cancer Wall on the concourse of Nassau Coliseum.
The Islanders showed that support through different programs. The first was the Hockey Fights Cancer Wall. Fans could purchase cards for $1 and write their names or names of loved ones on the cards, which were then hung throughout the concourse of Nassau Coliseum. More than 1,000 cards were sold. 

Other monetary donations came through the selling of pink cotton candy at each of the six home games as well as the pink stick auction, which allowed fans to bid on each player’s game-used sticks – wrapped in pink breast cancer awareness tape – from the Oct. 15 match up against the New York Rangers. More than $2,000 worth of cotton candy was sold, while the pink stick auction raised more than $7,000.

“Every year, our efforts in October seems to grow,” Rina said. “There was more participation this year, but also more recognition. I think it’s hitting home now and more people want to participate in order to make this disease go away.”

That recognition was done through Josh Bailey’s charity program, Bailey’s Buddies, John Tavares’ charity ticket program and local hospitals and organizations.

Andrew Holtzman, a Bailey’s Buddies participant, attended the game with his mother, Jill, and his grandfather, John Brinton. Andrew has a genetic disease called Myofibromatosis that causes tumors to form anywhere on his body. He had the opportunity to attend the game, high-five all of the players before warm-ups and meet Josh after the game, where he was also given a tour of the locker room.

“The game for all of us far exceeded our expectations,” said Jill Hotzman, mother of 13-year-old Andrew. “We thought it would be fun to go to the game and getting the tickets would be lovely and then when we got there, I was like ‘are you kidding me?’ We were in shock. Everything was so amazing.”

Going through chemotherapy for the second time in eight years – the first was when he was just five years old – his mother said he’s always had a positive attitude.

Andrew Holtzman meeting and getting an autograph from Josh Bailey after the Islanders win against the New York Rangers on Oct. 15, 2011.
“It’s obviously devastating (what he’s going through), but he does what he has to do and he’s always been a trooper,” Jill said. “It just shows people that you can live a positive life, even fighting cancer. You can still enjoy your life while going through something horrible. (The Islanders) really make that possible.”

Different games this month were dedicated to specific forms of cancer. The Oct. 10 game helped spread awareness about children’s cancer and featured a table from St. Baldrick’s Foundation – an organization committed to finding a cure for childhood cancer. Oct. 13 was the Prostate Cancer Awareness game, while the Breast Cancer Awareness game was Oct. 15.

For the latter two games, Islanders employees supported the causes by wearing light blue (prostate cancer) and pink (breast cancer) clothing and ribbons.

The Carol M. Baldwin Breast Cancer Foundation and Three Strohm Sisters Family Foundation were both in attendance at the Oct. 15 game to help inform fans about ways to get involved in the fight for a cure.

The Oct. 15 match up against the Rangers was also the game Andrew, his mom and his grandfather  all attended. Jill described her son’s emotions after having the opportunity to meet Bailey.

“He’s gone through so much, but I can just remind him of this, and it really was a bright spot (for him),” Jill said. “It made such a big impression, and he felt like the big man (going into the locker room). He couldn’t stop talking about Josh.”

She added, “I do understand that Andrew has a lot of difficulties, but he’s very intelligent, so when people can get past that and just connect with him, you can see how special Andrew really is. Josh was able to do that. The whole experience was just amazing.”

At the start of the Hockey Fights Cancer game on Oct. 25, the Islanders presented a check in the amount of $5,000 to Steven and Alexandria Cohen Children’s Medical Center, which will be used in the oncology/hematology area of the hospital.

While fans were there to see their favorite players take on the Penguins, there were two much bigger stars of the game – Ella Kate Kearney and Elijah Blades.

Kearney, 2, was recently diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma – a malignant tumor on her spine. The tumor was removed on Sept. 9, but her family learned that she would need eight months of chemotherapy and radiation. Ella was chosen to ride on the Fan Zamboni with her parents, Brian and Carrie, before the game, where she received recognition for her strength and courage.

“Just seeing that game, when they mentioned Ella’s name, everybody stopped and clapped for her,” Rina said. “That created awareness and was heartfelt. Everyone (in the crowd) was silent, just listening, but when they heard her story and what she went through, it turned into a standing ovation. That’s the awareness that we want.”

Blades, 8, who has been battling Lymphoblastic Lymphoma for the past three years, dropped the puck at the start of the game and got to meet Bailey – as a participant in the Bailey’s Buddies program – after the game with his fraternal twin brother, Nathaniel, by his side.

“While Elijah was going through this physically and mentally for the last three years, his brother was suffering mentally as well,” said Elijah and Nathaniel’s father, Lennie Blades. “They do everything together; they always have. When I told them that not only were we going to the game, but they would be going on the ice to drop the puck, they were just elated.”

Elijah Blades (right) with his twin brother, Nathaniel, dropping the puck with Islanders captain Mark Streit and Pittsburgh Penguins Evgeni Malkin at the Hockey Fights Cancer game on Oct. 25, 2011.
Elijah is back in school now and is not yet in remission, but Lennie said he’s in what they call maintenance, which means there are no signs of cancer cells. For Lennie and his wife, Karon, they still worry about comprising Elijah’s immune system and with every cough, every sneeze or any temperature he has, they’re nervous. Lennie said he knows the opportunity they received from the Islanders was a time where their minds had a little less worry.

“Words are so profound in terms of them experiencing that,” Lennie said. “When we were driving home, they couldn’t stop talking about it. They still can’t stop talking about it. Just to see my two boys – to see Elijah standing there in front of people and walk on the ice with his brother when three years ago he was in a wheelchair – was just profound for me.”

“He added, “We are grateful to the Islanders and to Josh for taking the time, not just for my family, but for the hundreds of families that have to endure this horrible disease.”

Hockey Fights Cancer Month concluded for the Islanders Oct. 29 during their last game of the month. A special Halloween fundraiser – which included baskets full of Islanders gear, autographs and candy – were created and donated by each of the Islanders players. The raffle raised $3,000 both for Hockey Fights Cancer and the Islanders Children’s Foundation.

Other non-profit cancer organizations that participated in the Islanders Hockey Fights Cancer Month were the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society – the world’s largest voluntary health agency dedicated to blood cancer, The Circle of Strength – dedicated to raising awareness and funding for ovarian cancer research and The Honeysuckle Foundation for Children with Cancer.

Though the month is over, the Islanders are not giving up with their support of finding a cure for cancer.

“We want to continue to help our fellow Long Islanders battle through the disease,” Rina said. “We know that it affects families both emotionally and financially. We’re committed here to make sure we’re doing our best to help.”

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