(Photo by Dan Mannes/Detroit RedWings)
DETROIT -- On Saturday night, everything came full circle for a brave Red Wings fan whose life has been turned upside down.
Five months after her life changed forever, Kelly Rothe returned to Joe Louis Arena.
On May 9, after nearly three years of research and preparation, Rothe underwent a double mastectomy at age 20, becoming the youngest patient ever to have the surgery at Beaumont Health System in Royal Oak.
The night before her surgery, The Red Wings hosted Rothe’s family for a private dinner inside the International Bancard Olympia Club. Rothe received the surprise of her life when she was greeted in the Wings’ locker room by her favorite player, Jimmy Howard.
“It was amazing. I view that night as kind of a before and after because that’s when it all started,” Rothe said. “I met so many people and was given so much. It started as my own family thing, but it just kind of blew up to where everyone could see it.”
The Red Wings’ video highlighting Rothe’s magical evening at The Joe, titled “Jimmy Howard Gave Me Flowers,” has received nearly 150,000 views on YouTube, and with it, Rothe has received an overwhelming outpouring of support.
“There’s been so much support from people I don’t even know,” she said. “It’s so incredible to know that so many people are thinking of me and wishing me well.”
Armed with the memory from an unforgettable night, Rothe went into surgery the next day calm and prepared.
And after her successful mastectomy, Rothe let the world know she was okay with an Instagram picture of her, blanketed by the signed No. 35 jersey she received from her hero, sporting a smile from ear to ear.
Rothe said she thought it would be difficult adjusting to having her breasts removed, but she came out of surgery with a unique confidence, knowing she did what’s necessary to live a long, healthy life.
“(My confidence) came from knowing I did the right thing for me and my family,” the Eastern Michigan University senior said. “That just stems confidence. My life is 180 degrees away from where it was six months ago and I know I did what was right.”
Beyond the scope of Red Wings fans and YouTube viewers, Rothe’s story has captivated people all over the world.
She was featured in the October 2014 issue of Glamour Magazine, made a brief appearance on ESPN SportsCenter’s video, “The Power of Healing” and has spoken at dozens of cancer awareness events and seminars.
“It’s amazing to have people willing to listen to what I have to say,” she said. “(It’s) a completely humbling experience and I love that I haven’t had to turn down one speaking opportunity yet.”
Rothe spent two months recovering from her mastectomy, trying to return to normalcy by traveling, spending time with her family and writing posts for her blog that she calls “The Mutant Diaries.”
But she wasn’t out of the woods yet.
Rothe was still at high risk to develop uterine and ovarian cancer, so as a young girl with future aspirations to have children, she was faced with another tough decision.
She elected to have a salpingectomy—the removal of the fallopian tubes—to reduce her lifetime risk of ovarian cancer. But before she could do that, Rothe, whose known she’s wanted to be a mother since she could talk, decided to freeze her eggs so her dream of having children can come true someday.
Rothe successfully completed the invasive egg-freezing procedure in July and she was happy, once again, about a decision to beat cancer to the punch.
Rothe’s happiness about another personal triumph was surpassed two weeks later when her 18-year-old sister, Samantha, tested negative for the BRCA 1 gene mutation that Rothe had tested positive for three years ago—the same gene mutation that led to the deaths of their mother and aunt.
“I’ve always been able to hide my emotions, but that day, it just hit me,” she said. “When I saw it said ‘no mutation detected,’ I just fell to the floor and cried tears of joy. It was an amazing feeling.”
That was the beginning of what would be an exciting three-week span for Rothe.
On August 5, she was given an early birthday present, reuniting with Howard for a lunch date the day before turning 21 years old.
“I just got to sit down and talk to him without cameras and get to know him more as a person,” Rothe said. “It was awesome.”
“It was for her birthday so it was a lot of fun, just to catch up,” the Red Wings goalie said. “She’s a lot of fun. She’s got a lot of personality and she’s a great girl. I think she’s an inspiration for everyone.”
A week later, Rothe went back to the hospital for her breast reconstruction surgery.
“It was a lot easier than my mastectomy, obviously. It was quick,” she said. “I woke up and I loved how I looked. It didn’t really matter that they weren’t mine. (The surgeons) were able to give me something that was familiar to me and it was worth it.”
Rothe spent the next several weeks recovering from her reconstruction surgery and adjusting to her new body.
But just two days before Breast Cancer Awareness Night, it was time for Rothe to undergo the laparoscopic salpingectomy that she’d been planning since July.
As a testament to her strength, Rothe made it to Joe Louis Arena on Saturday to cheer on the Red Wings, despite being in a considerable amount of pain after having her fallopian tubes removed two days prior.
Rothe, whose picture from her surprise meeting with Howard is featured on the cover of the 2014-15 Red Wings wall calendar, said she was honored to be a part of the Wings’ eighth annual Breast Cancer Awareness Night, and wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
“I got to bring some of my favorite people with me and that’s really nice to spend that time with them,” she said. “I’m really proud of the amount of money that (the Red Wings) have raised for such a good cause. And they’re not just raising money; they’re educating people, too.”
Though the Red Wings suffered a tough 3-2 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Breast Cancer Awareness Night, Howard said he’s happy that he and his teammates were able to contribute to such a special night at The Joe.
“It’s a cancer that has touched everyone somehow,” Howard said. “Whether it’s your immediate family or your extended family or friends, some way or another, you’re connected to it. And for us to be able to give back feels good.”
Rothe’s story will be featured in an upcoming documentary called “Pink & Blue” which details breast cancer and awareness for men and women.
The movie, which the producer hopes to show at film festivals and share with networks including HBO, PBS and the Discovery Channel, is set to premier January 5, 2015, and Rothe said she thinks the premier could be held at Detroit’s Fox Theatre.
Through it all, the 21-year-old has maintained a good, healthy sense of humor about her journey and has maintained relentless positivity.
And the self-proclaimed ‘biggest Jimmy Howard fan there is’ has a positive outlook on the Red Wings’ chances this season, too.
“They’re winning the Stanley Cup,” she said emphatically. “I always say they have a shot to win the Stanley Cup, but this year, I think I’m going to be right.”