Watch Mike Bossy's story with lung cancer and his family's resolve

Mike Bossy was lost to cancer so quickly, he didn't have time to say goodbye to everyone in his life who mattered.

But there is no one who Bossy touched during his Hockey Hall of Fame career -- family, teammates, friends and fans -- who didn't tell him how much he meant.

There is no one who Bossy thrilled who hasn't related a cherished memory or a story about a favorite goal scored by the four-time 1980s New York Islanders Stanley Cup champion, either in conversation with the legendary forward or since his death April 15, 2022.

Lost to lung cancer, one of the most electrifying, creative offensive talents in the NHL had just six months from the diagnosis of his disease in October 2021 until his final day at age 65.

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Late New York Islanders superstar Mike Bossy and his wife, Lucie.

Today, more than two years since his death, it's clear that the loss of a hockey superstar, and beloved husband, father and grandfather, wasn't in vain.

In January 2023, Bossy's family -- Lucie, his wife of almost 45 years, and the couple's daughters, Tanya and Josiane -- created the Mike Bossy Memorial Fund in concert with Lung Cancer Canada. The fund supports initiatives to address lung cancer stigma and raise awareness of the disease while promoting the launch of the Quebec Cancer Screening Program, as well as furthering education for patients and doctors.

Lung cancer is the leading form of cancer leading to death among men and women in the United States. An estimated 9,000 people in Bossy's native province were diagnosed with it in 2023; some 6,200 Quebecers were expected to lose their battle with the disease, more than breast, prostate and colorectal cancer combined.

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Mike Bossy in 1980s action with the New York Islanders against the Atlanta Flames.

"We are extremely grateful to the Bossy family for their efforts in advancing awareness and support for lung cancer," said Shem Singh, executive director of Lung Cancer Canada, upon the launch of the fund.

"This tribute is a meaningful way to honor the legacy of Mike Bossy and to tackle the stigma that still surrounds lung cancer. It is through awareness and education that we will be able to provide essential support to those living with lung cancer and their families."

Tanya Bossy recalls the anger that boiled inside when her father's cancer was diagnosed. At his request, in his final months, she redirected those emotions into positive energy.

"My dad had cancer symptoms well before he was diagnosed but doctors didn't check his lungs," she said. "I was very mad when my dad was sick. I was mad at the doctors, and I was even mad at my dad because he wasn't mad at all at one point.

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Mike Bossy's daughters, Josiane and Tanya, at Aréna Mike-Bossy in Laval, Quebec, on April 18, 2024.

"My dad was authentic and always said what he thought. He knew he was going to die. He told me, 'Stop being mad. For me, it's too late. Once all of this is over, go and save other grandfathers and grandmothers. Do your job then, but for now, your anger is getting in the way. Stop being angry.'"

Bossy was a popular, insightful NHL analyst with the French-language TVA Sports network in Quebec before announcing Oct. 19, 2021, he'd be stepping aside to deal with his lung cancer that had just been diagnosed. He had previously been treated for muscular pain and stiffness, Tanya saying that her father had been diagnosed with an inflammatory disorder called polymyalgia rheumatica, some of its symptoms not unlike those of cancer. 

But when Bossy's real disease finally was diagnosed, the lung cancer was in a far advanced Stage 4, having spread through his body. In the end, it would take his life.

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Mike Bossy with the 1984 Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, which he won as the player judged to have exhibited the best sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of play, and an autographed painting by artist David Preston Smith. 

Bossy had smoked on and off through the years, though he'd quit a few years before his cancer was discovered. Lung cancer also claimed Montreal Canadiens superstar Guy Lafleur, another long-time smoker, a week after Bossy's death.

But one needn't be a smoker to contract lung cancer, hence part of the stigma of the disease.

"It was the time when players smoked," Dr. Kevin Jao, an oncologist at Montreal's Sacre-Coeur Hospital, told the newspaper La Presse upon the Bossy fund's creation.

It was Jao who told Bossy that he had cancer, then treated him until his death.

"We will never deny that cigarettes have a link to this cancer, and we continue to remind people that it is better to stop smoking," Jao said. "But we want to eliminate the stigmatization of smokers. … We must not forget that there is a person behind this, a person who may have smoked at a time when it was more acceptable than it is today.

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A plaque remembering Mike Bossy as a part of the New York Islanders Hall of Fame is adorned with flowers upon his passing April 15, 2022.

"Some of my patients, even if they haven't smoked for 30 years, will always be labeled as smokers. We definitely want people to stop smoking, but the stigma has to stop because guilt is difficult."

Tanya Bossy remembers speaking with Jao during her father's treatment.

"He told me that he would see Stage 4 patients like my dad every week, when it was too late," she said. "He was very engaged with Lung Cancer Canada and told me that our family could get involved when the time was right, after my dad was gone. That's when we started the fund."

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A Mike Bossy bobblehead on UBS Arena ice Jan. 14, 2023, and Bossy is honored on the scoreboard of Prudential Center on April 21, 2022.

Josiane Bossy, three years Tanya's senior, knew her father much more as a family man than an NHL superstar.

"I never really grew up being that much of a hockey fan," she told Newsday in February during the final days of an auction when she put her half of her father's memorabilia up for bid, Tanya choosing to keep her souvenirs. "I know this sounds maybe a little bit weird to some people, but for me, Dad was Dad."

It was only after her father's death that Josiane really gained an appreciation of what he had accomplished in hockey.

"It really touched me to see how many people he touched and how many people loved him, literally," she said.

The Heritage Auctions sale of 144 items drew great interest, Bossy's 1980 and 1981 Stanley Cup rings, the highlight pieces, selling for nearly a half-million dollars combined. In all, the collection realized more than $750,000, almost exactly double the preauction estimate.

On her website, Josiane is working on a variety of projects that promote the career, legacy and memorial fund of her father, who from his first days on NHL ice in 1977 quickly became one of the purest goal-scorers in NHL history.

The Montreal native scored a record 53 goals in his maiden season with the Islanders, earning the 1978 Calder Trophy voted as the League's top rookie. Never had a first-year player scored at least 50 goals, but Bossy accurately predicted to Islanders general manager Bill Torrey that he'd do exactly that.

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Mike Bossy poses in the dressing room with his 50th goal puck and other pucks after he scored No. 50 in the New York Islanders' 50th NHL regular season game at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Uniondale, New York, on Jan. 24, 1981.

And he wasn't even warmed up.

Bossy scored 50 goals in an NHL-record nine consecutive seasons, "slumping" to 38 in 1986-87, plagued by a chronically bad back that finally would end his career. Famously, he scored 50 goals in as many games during the 1981-82 season, only Canadiens legend Maurice "Rocket" Richard having previously achieved that milestone.

Bossy scored at least 60 goals in five different seasons, with seven seasons of 100-plus points. Three times he was awarded the Lady Byng Trophy in recognition of his gentlemanly play combined with excellence; eight times he was named an NHL All-Star.

If Bossy's 1,126 points (573 goals, 553 assists) in just 752 regular-season games was dazzling, that statistic is almost a footnote next to his 160 points (85 goals, 75 assists) in 129 Stanley Cup Playoff games. Bossy scored the Cup-clinching goals in 1982 and 1983, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player of the 1982 postseason.

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A March 16, 2017, event at Rideau Hall in Ottawa, the home of Canada's Governor-General, to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the birth of the Stanley Cup, today's trophy and the original bowl on display. Then-Governor General David Johnston (far right) greeted Hall of Fame guests (from left) Bryan Trottier, Paul Coffey, Bernie Parent, Frank Mahovlich, David Keon and Mike Bossy.

Elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1991, Bossy was selected Jan. 1, 2017, as one of the 100 Greatest NHL Players for the League's first century.

Tanya Bossy was 6 when her father retired in October 1988. It was March 3, 1992, at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Bossy's No. 22 retired to arena rafters in an emotional ceremony, that his fame truly dawned on her.

"It was at Mike Bossy Night that I realized my dad was big, that people loved him," she said, the star's love affair with fans very mutual. "My dad cried on the ice that night. It was the first time I saw him cry and I started to worry about him from that day. I realized that even the great ones could be scared, or cry. I was always very close to my dad. We would talk every day, sometimes many times a day."

In 2006, working for the Islanders as director of business relations and corporate sales, Bossy's flight from Montreal to New York was cancelled by a winter storm, so he and Tanya drove 16 hours together through snow-choked roads to Uniondale.

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From left: Bryan Trottier, David Keon and Mike Bossy have no luck cracking an unflinching member of Rideau Hall's Ceremonial Guard during a March 16, 2017, event at the home of Canada's Governor-General.

"With his intensity, he just had to find a way to get to work," she recalled.

Father and daughter spent a week together at his front-office job and at every step, she saw a humble superstar to whom fans flocked, a modest man who kept his trophies not on display, but in boxes in the basement.

"He'd go into the Coliseum by the front door," Tanya said. "He had fun walking behind fans and tapping them on the shoulder, especially the ones wearing his sweater. He was like a kid. The fans would turn around and he'd be giggling, mischief in his eyes.

"He'd never refuse to sign an autograph. He'd be signing napkins at McDonald's. I was like, 'Dad, really?' and he'd say, 'Who cares if it's a napkin? He asked me for an autograph.' I went back to TVA a couple of weeks ago and a cameraman told me that Dad would always ask about his family, always interested in people."

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Mike Bossy as a member of the 1980s dynasty New York Islanders.

Bossy doted on Tanya's daughters, Alexe, now 14, and Gabrielle, now 11, driving them to and from school and volunteering once a week in Alexe's library.

Both girls are fiercely proud of the difference that their late grandfather is making for cancer patients, disease awareness, support and early screening initiatives now undertaken in his name offering many the best chance of maintaining or regaining good health.

"I told my dad I was going to do this," Tanya Bossy said of the fund's creation. "My dad being gone was one thing but knowing that people still come in with Stage 4 cancer and we haven't done anything to try to help, that would be even worse. 

"This is something that we're doing for others, and for him."