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Wings’ fight against breast cancer is a personal one

by Christy Hammond / Detroit Red Wings

DETROIT –  Starting goaltender Jimmy Howard will sport a different look this Saturday, Oct. 12, when the Detroit Red Wings host Philadelphia on the team’s Seventh Annual Breast Cancer Awareness Night presented by Team Rehab. With the help of Vaughn, which generously donated the equipment, and artist Ray Bishop, Howard will wear a pink and white catcher and blocker along with a special goalie mask to support the cause. Howie’s gear is in honor of his wife’s relative, who is a breast cancer survivor. All of his pink and white equipment will be auctioned off with the proceeds benefiting two local cancer centers to help cover the costs of treatment for uninsured and underinsured metro Detroit residents battling the disease.

Howard is just one of many players and staff members with a personal connection to breast cancer. The wife of forward Todd Bertuzzi, Julie, spent her summer at her mother Kathy’s side, accompanying her to chemotherapy treatments after she received the diagnosis of triple-negative breast cancer. Julie has seen other women in her family battle and, unfortunately, succumb to the disease. As her mom begins radiation treatments, Julie focuses on what she can do to help others receive life-saving screening and treatment. Julie and Todd will host a patient currently receiving treatment at Karmanos Cancer Institute at Saturday’s game.

The commitment to a Breast Cancer Awareness night began more than seven years ago with the help of Red Wings Advisor to Hockey Operations Chris Chelios, who was a Wings defenseman at the time of the program’s inception.

Chelios watched his sister Gigi battle breast cancer for 10 years before she passed away on Sept. 25, 2000, at the age of 36. With his encouragement, the entire lineup used hot pink hockey tape on their sticks during pre-game warmups on Oct. 24, 2008, which were then auctioned off on the concourse during the game.

Having witnessed his sister’s decade-long battle, Chelios is a vocal supporter of the Red Wings’ efforts to raise money for women struggling to cover the costs of treatment and diagnostic screening.

"Out of 10 years, she probably had six good ones," Chelios said to The Detroit News in 2008. "It went into remission a few times and that's because of all the treatment she got. At least she got a few extra years in there. It doesn't happen without the funding. It says a lot for what the team's doing and lots of groups. I think we're trying to do every little thing that helps. It's a great cause."

Defenseman Brendan Smith has pledged that for every assist he records during the 2013-14 season, he will make a donation to Karmanos Cancer Institute to assist uninsured and underinsured women with the expenses associated with treatment. Smith has been a proponent in the fight against breast cancer after watching his paternal grandparents both struggle with their own breast cancer diagnoses. Smith’s grandmother passed away on Christmas Eve 2009 from the disease. His grandfather is a rare male breast cancer survivor. According to the American Cancer Society, the lifetime risk of a man getting breast cancer is about one in 1,000.

In addition to the “Survivor Suite,” in which the Red Wings host breast cancer survivors, Henrik Zetterberg and his wife Emma host breast cancer patients and their young families in the Zetterberg Foundation Suite each year. This season, they will welcome five women and families to the game from Karmanos Cancer Institute. Emma will personally visit the families in the suite during the game as this night holds a special place in her heart; her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003.

"Eight years ago, my family found out that my mom successfully finished radiation treatment," Zetterberg explained. "We were so excited when we got the news after everything she had to go through. I have personally seen how tough the treatment process can be and that's why Henrik and I are honored to host these amazing women receiving treatment at Karmanos Cancer Institute and their families at the game in our Zetterberg Foundation Suite. We just want to give them a fun night out with their families where they can forget about the chemo, radiation, surgeries and side effects that come with the fight against this horrible disease."

In addition to the players and their significant others with ties to breast cancer, numerous Red Wings employees know someone who has personally battled or is battling the disease. It is these many personal connections to breast cancer that pushes the organization to raise money to help with the costs of breast cancer screening and treatment, and why plans for the Eighth Annual Breast Cancer Awareness Night are already underway.

Anyone interested in nominating a breast cancer patient or survivor to attend next season’s Breast Cancer Awareness Night game in the “Survivor Suite” can complete this online form by clicking here.

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