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Toques speak louder than words

In partnership with the NHL and NHLPA, the EOCF continues to help fight hockey's greatest battle

by Kelli Gustafson /

Video: Proceeds benefit Kids with Cancer Society and EOCF

Nine-year-old Colby was like every other energetic, active kid his age playing hockey. But as his mother Rachel Jezowski explained, that all changed in January of 2016 when he was diagnosed with Acute T-Cell Lymphoma.

Colby's parents began to notice their once-energetic son was struggling to walk up the stairs in their Lloydminster home without having to stop to take a breath.

"That's when we knew something wasn't right," his mother explained. 

After taking Colby to the local doctor - who suspected pneumonia and ordered an X-ray - the young boy was rushed by ambulance to the Stollery Children's Hospital in Edmonton where he spent the next week in the ICU before receiving his diagnosis.

"It is the worst nightmare for any parent," recalls Jezowski, as her and her husband struggled to maintain a balanced life going back and forth between Edmonton and Lloydminster, with Colby's two younger sisters at home.

It was during this difficult time in the hospital that Colby met Tyler.

"They clicked right away," Colby's mom said, smiling

In May of 2015, the then-8-year-old Tyler was diagnosed with a brain tumour called Medulloblastoma.

A fellow hockey-lover, Tyler and Colby soon became friends while receiving treatment at the same hospital.

Fighting the greatest battle of them all, the two young friends joined Alex Ovechkin and Connor McDavid at centre ice for the ceremonial puck drop at Rogers Place for the Oilers Hockey Fights Cancer game night on Wednesday.

From lavender rink boards to lavender lights, which created a soft glow inside the bowl and on the ice, the Hockey Fights Cancer's signature colour was evident throughout Rogers Place.

"This evening has been an absolute blessing for Tyler. He just finished his chemo in July, and to come here and drop the puck, he has been over-the-moon," said Tyler's mom, Tanya Palmowski.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a nine-year-old boy," added Colby's mom.

In collaboration with the NHL and NHLPA's Hockey Fights Cancer initiative - to raise awareness and funds to support local cancer research institutions, children's hospitals, and other local charities - the Oilers Ladies and Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation (EOCF) sold limited-edition Oilers toques with the Rogers Place Inaugural Season logo, with net proceeds benefitting the Kids with Cancer Society and the EOCF.

"When I look at all of these Edmonton Oilers fans buying these toques in support of our children, I am reminded that we have a whole community behind these children," said Kids with Cancer Society Executive Director Val Figliuzzi.

More specifically, the net funds raised from the toques sold will go towards the Kids with Cancer Society's BrainWorks program. This one-of-a-kind, unique program works with kids who have undergone chemotherapy and radiation treatment for cancer, to teach them how to cope with new challenges.

In support of a worthy cause and the chance to sport a limited-edition Oilers toque, this special item was completely sold-out before the start of the third period.

"This program helps children learn how their brain works following their chemotherapy and radiation," explained Figliuzzi. "The money will go to help children who have or have had cancer and are having learning issues based upon their treatment."

It is children like Tyler and Colby who will benefit from this program.

"He still has a bit of nerve-motor problems," Tyler's mom said, explaining the challenges Tyler still faces following the completion of his chemotherapy.

With an estimated 1 out of every 333 children being diagnosed with cancer before the age of 20, the Oilers and EOCF are proud to support the Kids with Cancer Society as the main beneficiaries for their Hockey Fights Cancer game.

"The Kids with Cancer Society truly performs life-changing work," said EOCF Executive Director Natalie Minckler. "Our Oilers Foundation is proud to join the fight against childhood cancer and we are committed to supporting the children and families affected in any way that we possibly can."

Despite the moments of immense pain and anguish that is experienced by many families affected by cancer today, can also come moments of strength, pride, gratitude and - in Tyler and Colby's case - friendship.

"He's starting to smile again," Tyler's mom said; the pain in her eyes swept away by gratitude. "And that's been the biggest thing." 

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