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Red Wings brighten the spirits of cancer patients

After patients watch practice, Wings' Jonathan Ericsson hosts luncheon

by Arthur J. Regner @arthurjregner / DetroitRedWings.com

DETROIT- Being a member of a team is almost second nature to the Detroit Red Wings.

On Tuesday, the Red Wings teamed up with the American Cancer Society to welcome over 100 cancer patients, survivors and caretakers to Little Caesars Arena to watch the Wings' morning skate and take part in a luncheon where they met Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson.

It was all part of Detroit's and the NHL's annual Hockey Fights Cancer Awareness Night. Each visitor also received tickets to Tuesday's game between the Wings and the Los Angeles Kings.

"The people that are here today are so excited to be here with the Red Wings," said Rachel Cook, the program manager for Mission Delivery for the American Cancer Society. "The Red Wings are a great partner of ours to work with; the lunch experience, watching the practice in the morning, everything is just wonderful for them.

"So, it's really a day where they just come to be a Red Wings fan and kind of forget about the other things they're dealing with."

Mission Delivery is an American Cancer Society program which provides services to cancer patients in the metro Detroit Area.

"The Hockey Fights Cancer efforts goes towards Our Road to Recovery program," Cook said. "Our Road to Recovery program is a program here in the area that provides free rides to treatments for cancer patients. Last year we provided 2,300 rides to cancer patients here in the area.

"Without this program, a lot of these patients would be left with having to make the decision of not going to their life-saving treatments."

There were many heartwarming and heartbreaking stories being shared during the luncheon, but there was also a determined spirit and an aura of living life to the fullest despite the obstacles that lie ahead.

Last December, 26-year-old Jordan Blodgett received the news he had cancer.

"I was diagnosed with bone cancer, it's a very rare form, it's extraskeletal myxoid chondrosarcoma, it's a big, long name, but it was in the soft tissue of my neck," Blodgett said. "The course of treatment was nine months of chemo every 21 days. Split treatments between Ann Arbor and our hometown of Traverse City.

"Around the same time I was diagnosed, a few weeks later, a few days before Christmas, I found out my wife was pregnant."

In early August, Blodgett finished his treatment and two and a half weeks later his daughter Sloane was born.

He says the whole experience was "crazy" with a cancer diagnosis and finding out his wife, Shelby was going to have a baby, but he kept his head about him.

"My grandma on my mom's side had breast cancer and she passed away in March from breast cancer and she always had a pretty good mindset of it," Blodgett said. "The way I handle it was there was no reason to be down about it; it's not going to help you out in the long run. The best way is to look at all the positives.

"Right now everything is clear, scans every three months."

Two days after turning eight, Noah Gochanour was diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma. He had a tumor removed and in June of 2015 young Noah was told he was cancer-free. Three months later, the cancer was back and had spread to his lungs.

Since that time, courageous Noah has undergone treatment and the doctors were optimistic that his cancer was under control. Unfortunately, in September of 2016, the cancer returned and Noah was out of treatment options. His disease was terminal.

"He has an amazing spirit," said Sarah Gochanour, Noah's mother. "During his last bout with cancer, we've run out of treatment options, there's a chemo that might slow it down but not without a cost.

"So, Noah got pretty much explained into everything that was going on because I feel he's at the age now where he can make the decision on what to do now himself. So, he decided he doesn't want to do anything right now; we're just going to enjoy life and have fun and make as many memories as we can."

One memory which Noah, Sarah, his six-year-old brother Nathan and his three-year-old sister Lillyan will cherish is when Noah got to drop the puck before Tuesday's game between Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg (his favorite player) and Kings captain Anze Kopitar.

"I'm really excited (to drop the puck)," Noah said during Tuesday's luncheon.

He was also at a loss for words when he was asked about being taken around the Wings locker room by Trevor Daley to meet all the Red Wings players. Noah even was escorted onto the ice to have a practice drop leading up to his big moment.

"It was cool," or "it was very cool," was all he could say until he was asked about what it meant to have the Red Wings behind him and rooting for him.

"They really help a lot with what I'm going through. I know all of them really love me and that's all I really care about," the 11-year-old boy said.

Noah's mother Sarah has had to be the rock of her family and she admits she has really had to learn how to perform.

"Just maintaining," was how she responded when asked about how she was coping. "I like to say that I am an amazing actress, that's one thing I've picked up throughout the years is no matter what, mom has to have a smile; no matter what she's being told, no matter what's going on.

"If I cry, it scares them (her children). So, I just kind of put it the back of my head and try and make sure he has the most incredible life that I can provide for right now and hope for the best for the future."

 

Ericsson always has time for Wings fans. He appreciates their loyalty.

On Tuesday as he posed for pictures and gave words of encouragement to the many who were going through cancer treatment, his mind drifted back to his native Sweden.

"It's a tough time what they've been going through. Some of them had been going through treatment, some of them are going through treatment," Ericsson said. "I know more from a distance because my mom has been diagnosed twice now with cancer. I've been over here and it's hard to do anything for her at home because I'm so far away and you wish you were closer.

"So I guess this is a way of me (being able to) help some other people at least to cheer their day up. It feels good. You almost get sick to your stomach seeing all these people, but they're all in good spirits and if I can help them be a little bit happier over the day, that would be great."

Ericsson's mother was diagnosed with cancer six or seven years ago and after successful treatment she was in remission for five years and given the all-clear sign, she was cancer-free.

One year later, his mother was going through treatment again.

"Anyone can get cancer, the risk of anyone getting cancer is as big as her getting it back after one year of her being healthy," Ericsson said. "It kind of struck her pretty bad, especially mentally and everyone around her, especially my family.

"She just finished her treatment the second time here, we'll see how well she responded with the treatment."

As Ericsson met with every fan, he made a point of saying something to each one of them. He wanted to let them know he was in their corner.

"I try say something to everyone that's coming up (for a picture), make them feel like they're meeting someone who actually paid attention to them," he said. "That makes it more to them that you're talking to them. You can get a picture and you can have that to remember things, but the meeting itself is what they're going to remember the most."

This event with the Red Wings is so popular that there is a substantial waiting list of people wanting to have the opportunity to get a glimpse of their Red Wings.

"The Red Wings really do a one-of-kind experience for our survivors, for our patients, for our caregivers, for road drivers," said Jenna Christie, community development director for the American Cancer Society. "It's one thing to just invite them out to the game, but it's another thing to host a luncheon, invite them to meet a player, to have them drop the puck.

"It's all these experiences that make it one-of-kind, that really make people take a step back and realize it doesn't have to be so bad going through a cancer journey, that it's not a death sentence and there's experiences along the way that make it worthwhile, that make the battling a little bit easier.

"I think that's what the Red Wings do for them. It provides a source of excitement and joy in a really hard time."

Blodgett couldn't agree more but he also says, don't forget about the American Cancer Society.

"It's great to have an organization like the ACS where you can go to them for assistance as far as finding a group to help you with all the questions," Blodgett said. "Getting diagnosed is a mind-blowing experience and you're sitting in front of a doctor and they're telling you all these things. So it's nice to have these resources."

Christie says it events like Tuesday's which give her a sense of fulfillment.

"We interact with a ton of different people with tons of different stories and it's not always easy," Christie said. "But being here and seeing the Red Wings put on an event like this and inviting the American Cancer Society to partner with them is one of the really good days of this job."

It was a good day for everyone.

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