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Hockey Fights Cancer

Bryan Bickell's family knows cancer too well

Hurricanes forward has lost 23-year-old cousin, aunt to disease

by Kurt Dusterberg / Correspondent

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Carolina Hurricanes forward Bryan Bickell doesn't have to look far to see the toll cancer can take on a family.

Six years ago, he lost his cousin, Nick Bickell, to testicular cancer at age 23; he didn't make it through chemotherapy. More recently, Bickell lost his aunt, Doris St. Claire. 

As Bickell changed out of his practice gear recently, you could sense his heavy heart.

"My aunt passed away last year," he said. "She had terminal brain cancer. Things got too late. They brought her to the doctors, she had all the tests done."

And like too many cases, the outcome was devastating.

"We cherished the moments we had with her for the rest of the summer," he said. "We went from having her knowing us to, months later, not knowing your name. It's tough."

Bickell's story will be one of thousands shared when the Hurricanes hold their annual Hockey Fights Cancer Awareness Night, against the New Jersey Devils on Sunday. The Hurricanes will host cancer awareness, research and support groups that will have the chance to speak with fans and promote themselves. As always, local cancer survivors will be on hand to perform a variety of honorary roles, including the ceremonial puck drop and the siren sounders to begin each period. Fans will be able to show support for their loved one by filling out and decorating "I Fight For" cards. A silent auction with player gift baskets will raise money for the cancer organizations in attendance.

Among those receiving recognition will be Erin Madigan, a former player with the Junior Hurricanes who was declared cancer-free earlier this year after seven months of treatment for a rare form of kidney cancer. She has donated more than 2 ½ feet of hair to other cancer patients, and she volunteers with the Triangle Special Hockey Association, which provides hockey programs for disabled individuals.

Hurricanes coach Bill Peters will be thinking of a friend when he wears lavender, the designated clothing color for team personnel at Hockey Fights Cancer games. While he was coaching Rockford of the American Hockey League, he built a friendship with someone in the golf industry. Peters said his friend is a quiet man who wouldn't want the attention.

"He's just a real good man. He kept it quiet," Peters said. "I was talking to him, and he told me that he had already fought cancer. He was in remission before he even told me."

y, Peters made a point to catch up with his friend.

"We went deep sea fishing, played some golf this summer," he said. "This Hockey Fights Cancer, there's always someone who pops up in your mind that you're well aware of that's fighting the disease. He's the guy for me right now."

Peters also made sure to acknowledge his friend with a formal gesture.

"I saved the tie and the pocket square [from last season] and gave it to him, and I will probably do the same thing with this year's. I know he was pretty moved when we did that. I'll give him a call and see if he can't make it to the game on Sunday. It would be nice to have him in the building."

While many cancer stories have sad endings, Bickell stressed the forward-focused part of the Hockey Fights Cancer initiative.

"My Dad is one of those stubborn guys that doesn't like the doctor. [He'll say] 'I'm fine, I'll shake it off the next day.'" Bickell said. "I always tell him there's nothing wrong with getting checked. Make sure things are right before they're too late. Get it checked out."

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