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Ducks honor 17-year-old girl with cancer at season opener

Fan named 21st Duck, awarded for perseverance, character, courage, inspiration

by Dan Arritt / Correspondent

ANAHEIM -- Katie Hawley was putting together gift jars at the Jessie Rees Foundation in Irvine, California, Sept. 29 when she received a surprise visit from Anaheim Ducks forward Rickard Rakell. He was there to invite Hawley to the season opener against the Arizona Coyotes at Honda Center on Thursday.

More than that, Rakell wanted Hawley to be part of the team for a night.

Hawley, 17, has had difficulty looking forward to events and get-togethers since she learned her cancer had returned for a third time in December. One outing she cherished were Ducks games, but even that feeling had waned.

"My life was just like any other kid," Hawley said in a video distributed by the Ducks. "I was going to school, playing soccer on the weekends and during the week. When I got (cancer) the third time, I told my parents that I was done. I didn't want to fight any more. I knew that I was going to go through all the pain and suffering, and I didn't want to do it."

Video: ARI@ANA: Ducks introduce Hawley as 21st Duck

Word reached the Ducks that Hawley was a big fan of the team, and especially Rakell, a 24-year-old from Sweden who's in his sixth season with Anaheim and was the team's leading point scorer last season. Rakell sent a video to Hawley encouraging her to continue the fight.

"It's tough for me to understand that I can be so helpful to somebody, but it means a lot to me," Rakell said after the morning skate on Thursday. "It's such a big honor. Anything I can do to help her."

When Rakell visited Hawley at the Jessie Rees Foundation warehouse, he surprised her a second time with a Ducks jersey with No. 21 and her last name imprinted on the back. He invited her to join the team as the 21st Duck, a spot on the opening-night roster for a fan who exhibits great perseverance, character, courage and inspiration.

"Stuff like this is what makes me want to keep fighting," Hawley said. "It makes me keep looking forward to having things planned in my life."

Hawley also attended practice earlier this week. She stepped into the dressing room, where the No. 21 jersey hung in a stall. She was introduced by coach Randy Carlyle, listened in on a meeting and took the ice with Rakell, knocking around the puck in preparation for opening night.

"I think it's going to be a lot of fun," Rakell said. "I know she's looking forward to it a lot. I know she's been excited for a few days, and I think it will be a great thing for her to hear all the fans cheering her on."

Hawley was first diagnosed with ganglioneuroblastoma at age 9. Bouts of nausea and pain in her midsection led doctors to discover an egg-sized, stage 3 tumor in her stomach. After a year of treatment, she enjoyed two years of remission before the cancer returned in February of 2013, this time spreading to her skull, hips and legs.

She underwent an experimental chemotherapy treatment in San Francisco that gave her a 33 percent chance of improvement.

The third diagnosis zapped her will, but with the help of organizations such as the Jessie Rees Foundation, the Pediatric Research Foundation, the American Cancer Society and the Ducks, she's discovered newfound determination to continue the fight.

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