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Wings help fight breast cancer

by Greg Monahan / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT – October in the National Hockey League is Hockey Fights Cancer month, and Friday night at Joe Louis Arena, there was a significant pink tint to the hometown crowd as the Red Wings hosted their fifth annual Breast Cancer Awareness Night.

The Red Wings welcomed 70 guests into four different suites at The Joe as the club honored those affected by the disease. Some guests in attendance have been cancer-free for several years, while others are still undergoing treatment. But no matter where they are in the fight against breast cancer, it all amounted to a special night for the women in attendance.

“It’s all difficult to describe,” said Lisa Roy of St. Johns, who has attended every Breast Cancer Awareness Night since the program’s inception in 2007. “You look around and see all the people with pink on, and the support is just overwhelming sometimes. It really just hits you in the heart.”

Others, such as Stevie Spisz, could hardly contain their excitement.

“Being together with other women that are experiencing the same things I’m experiencing – just being here I get so giddy,” she said. “It’s hard for me to talk I’m so excited.”

The night’s events included a pink winter knit hat sale, an autographed puck draw with one lucky fan getting to meet Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard after the game, and a silent auction with several Wings, Tigers and Lions items up for bid.

All proceeds from the fundraising initiatives will be split between the Liggett Breast Center in Grosse Pointe and the Weisberg Cancer Treatment Center in Farmington Hills.

Since the first Breast Cancer Awareness Night, the Red Wings have raised more than $85,000 for the cause – something that Dr. Sharon Helmer, the Director of Karmanos Breast Imaging at the Weisberg Cancer Treatment Center, said has saved many lives.

“This money today is going to underserved women to help them get mammograms,” she said. “Women that may avoid getting a screening mammogram or even a diagnostic mammogram knowing that they have something wrong in their breast but are not able to afford it. This is critical. It saves lives, there’s no question.”

But the purpose of the night was not exclusively about raising money. The ability for patients and survivors to share stories with one another has helped form a bond that will go well beyond the walls of JLA.

“There are friendships that have been formed here from the very first time that the Wings hosted one of these evenings in the suites,” said Dr. Christine Watt of the Liggett Breast Center. “There are people that are still meeting with each other, and there are friendships that have been based as a result of the breast cancer awareness program.”

It wasn’t just patients, survivors and doctors getting excited about bringing attention to the cause. Fans lined up to buy pucks and feverishly bid on auction items. Thousands wore pink – including Sean Griffin of Redford Township, who came decked out in a long-haired pink wig, a pink scarf, and pink sunglasses.

Griffin, along with his wife and son, came specifically to Breast Cancer Awareness Night to show support for a family member that is currently battling the disease.

“My lovely sister-in-law has been fighting breast cancer for two years now, and she is – I shouldn’t say it out loud – but she is winning and we’re pretty excited about that,” he said. “We’re going to be able to raise a bunch of awareness tonight. There’s a big TV crowd, a big crowd at the Joe, and it’s going to be a good night.”

Griffin was right in more ways than one. As the final seconds ticked off the clock in the third period, the Wings had beaten Columbus, but – at least in the suite level – the final score took a backseat to the bond and friendships created on a special Friday night.

“I can’t put (this night) into words, I really can’t,” said Jamie Barber, who made the trek all the way from Allendale to come to the game. “I’m honored. I feel like one of the luckiest people alive.”

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