Bonds are forged through good and bad experiences, and sometimes a balance of both.
The Morgan Center, a pre-kindergarten program for children with cancer, brought Johnny Higgins and Anthony Gregoretti together when the Long Islanders were three years old.
But it was a love of hockey, especially the Rangers, that created a friendship that has helped both get through the good times and the bad. Johnny and Anthony, who are both treated at Cohen Children's Medical Center, a Garden of Dreams partner organization in Queens, first connected with the New York Rangers through the Garden of Dreams.
"To them, they're not friends because of this; they're just friends," said Colleen Higgins, Johnny's mom. "They're two boys that have common interests."
Anthony, now 7, was diagnosed with Shwachman Diamond Syndrome, a very rare bone marrow disorder syndrome when he was about 18 months old that has caused him to have a very low immune system, pancreatic insufficiencies and respiratory issues.
Johnny, 6, was diagnosed with leukemia as a 2-year-old. After years of remission, he relapsed last year and received a bone marrow transplant this past December.
Distractions, both big and small, go a long way to get the boys and their families' minds off the tough times. Especially the huge distractions, like getting front row seats during the Rangers' Blue Carpet event prior to last Thursday's season-opener.
"This makes him feel like he's super special," Colleen said. "It gives him an amazing memory so when he talks about what this year has been like, this is what happened. He got to meet the Rangers. He won't talk about the hard stuff he went through. This will be the overwhelming memory."
Video: Garden of Dreams: Anthony's Story
Stephanie Gregoretti, Anthony's mom, said her son began to pray for his friend when he learned of Johnny's situation.
"When Anthony found out that Johnny wasn't doing well again, he was praying and prayed that one day when Johnny gets better they can hang out, play outside and maybe watch a Ranger game."
She never thought those prayers would bring them both to Madison Square Garden.
"Never in a million years did I think that prayer was going to turn into this," she said laughing. "Anthony goes through so much in his everyday life. To them, this is normal. I think he's shocked to hear other kids don't go through what they go through. To have a day like this, I'm speechless. There's no words."
Video: Garden of Dreams: Johnny's Story
Johnny's condition a year ago prevented him from visiting The Garden for a Ranger game. But the Rangers weren't far, as Adam Graves called up Johnny and Anthony for a chat, and this year the three met in person during the Blue Carpet event and during the third period of the game.
Colleen said despite the relapse, Johnny, who's favorite player is Henrik Lundqvist, is doing well and is back at school.
She said replacing hospital visits and missed school days with memories like meeting his idol and watch the Rangers live will stay with Johnny and the family for the rest of their lives.
"To be able to go out and do something like this that's amazing, that's huge," she said. "It replaces those really hard memories with really great ones, so when he looks back on his childhood, this will be what he remembers. He even asked me yesterday, 'mom, am I famous? Why do I get to do this stuff?' I said you did something amazing. You beat cancer twice. That's impressive."