Saturday was my favorite night of the hockey season, and it had absolutely nothing to do with the Golden Knights’ 6-0 win over the San Jose Sharks
It was also the hardest night of the season, emotionally speaking.
The NHL’s 31 teams all celebrate “Hockey Fights Cancer” during November. It has been going on for 20 years now and has raised tens of millions of dollars for cancer research. From the special lavender jerseys the teams wear in warmups and are ultimately auctioned off, to the inspiring stories we hear throughout the league, to the signs fans hold up in arenas proclaiming who they “Fight For,” it’s one of the best things the NHL does.
Who among us hasn’t been impacted by cancer? Whether it was yourself, a family member, a friend, cancer doesn’t discriminate. Man or woman. Rich or poor. Black or white. American, Canadian or Russian. Cancer can get any of us.
We’ll get to how it got me in a minute. But first, I wanted to applaud Kendell Galor, who was honored in the pregame ceremony.
Kendell is a member of the Golden Knights family along with the UNLV hockey family. She is a strength and conditioning intern for the Knights and she is the trainer for UNLV’s hockey team.
Back in June, 2016, a rare form of brain tumor was found. After months of treatments and surgeries, she is winning her battle. (To learn more about Kendell’s story and to watch her ceremonial puck drop before the game, see the videos at the end of this column.)
Colin Magdon is also trying to win his battle. The 7-year-old who plays for the Junior Golden Knights, has leukemia. He recently had his first round of chemotherapy and his fight is well under way.
I hear these stories about young people and cancer and it breaks my heart.
Last year, the Knights visited the Nevada Childhood Cancer Center in Henderson to spend a couple of hours with kids who are waging a brave battle against cancer. To a man, every player who visited and spent time with those kids that day said it was one of the most rewarding experiences of their lives. And remember, many of these same players the month before were in the community supporting the victims of the October 1 mass shooting.
It’s days like Saturday where sports and the community can bond, where we can be there for each other, where we can raise awareness for a cause that is worth fighting for.
And while everyone wants the Golden Knights to win on the ice, sometimes, getting a little perspective is even more important. Because as much as a win Saturday against San Jose will bring a smile to Colin Magdon’s face or make Kendell Galor feel a little better as she drives home from T-Mobile Arena, the fact they know people care about them and want to help them is more important than two points and a .500 record.
Now, my story.
On April 16, 2001, I met with my doctor at Mountain View Hospital. I had been diagnosed with hyperparathyroidism a year before and had gone through two unsuccessful surgeries to remove the parathyroid glands, which are extremely tiny.
During the second surgery, my doctor noticed something abnormal with my thyroid and took a biopsy. Turned out I had stage 4 follicular thyroid cancer.
He broke the news in his office and my body went numb. Cancer? Really? How? Was he sure?
There was no doubt, he said, even though he had no idea how I had contracted cancer.
The good news was, it was treatable. It was in its early stages and with surgery, radiation and time, he was confident I would be O.K. I was only 44 years old at the time.
They sent me to Bethesda, Maryland, home of the National Institutes of Health. My endocrinologist set it up because, frankly, the health care in Las Vegas at the time wasn’t the best and NIH is an amazing place.
I would spend a little over a month at NIH where they not only got the cancer in my thyroid, they managed to get the parathyroid glands removed. Guess the third time was the charm.
Of course, I don’t have a thyroid anymore, so I’m on daily medication to give me a metabolism.
When you spend a month in the hospital, it’s as tough mentally as it is physically. You wonder when you’re getting out. The thought even crept into my mind if I would get out. Would I win this fight?
While at NIH, there was another cancer patient a floor above me. A guy by the name of Shawn Walsh.
You may have heard of him. He was the longtime hockey coach at the University of Maine and he was fighting a far tougher battle than I was. He had been diagnosed with renal cell carcinoma in 2000 and NIH was one of the world leaders in stem cell research. He had had a transplant in the spring and was back to get checked on.
I went to see him one day between his numerous tests and we talked about how tough hockey players are. He was an inspiration. We wished each other well and I was discharged a couple of weeks later.
Little did I know that as my battle was just beginning, Coach Walsh’s was coming to an end. He returned home to Maine and on Sept. 26, he died after losing his fight. He was only 46 years old.
I thought a lot about him in the months that followed. Three rounds of radiation treatment would follow over the next few years. I joined a thyroid cancer support group where I met some amazing women (I was the only guy) and I felt like I was once again on a team.
My employer at the time, the Las Vegas Review-Journal, was totally supportive, from publisher Sherm Frederick to sports editor Jim Fossum, along with my colleagues.
A quick funny story. I was covering UNLV basketball at the R-J at the time and my strength wasn’t 100 percent after one of the rounds of radiation. I was trying to stay awake during practice one afternoon in the Thomas & Mack Center and I wasn’t doing a very good job. Charlie Spoonhour, who was the Rebels’ coach at the time, yelled up at the stands where I was sitting, “Will someone please wake Carp up?”
Spoon was a helluva guy.
Eventually, I was headed to the University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora where Dr. Bryan Haugen, one of the nation’s foremost experts in thyroid cancer, got me across the finish line. In 2008, I was declared cancer-free and it’s 10 years and counting. But I have never forgotten April 16, 2001.
For those of you who are battling cancer or know someone who is, know that you are not alone. Family, friends, and faith go a long way. And sometimes, it’s the friends you don’t know who give you the biggest boost. Like the 18,252 who were in T-Mobile Arena Saturday night. I’m guessing Kendell Galor was feeling pretty good after the standing ovation she received following the ceremonial puck drop Saturday.
So we fight for Kendell. We fight for Colin. We fight for everyone who is battling cancer, and we don’t stop fighting because we can’t let cancer win.
To donate to “Hockey Fights Cancer,” go to https://www.nhl.com/community/hockey-fights-cancer.
**Steve Carp is the author of “Vegas Born — The remarkable story of the Golden Knights.” Follow him on Twitter @stevecarp56. All of Steve Carp’s work here on SinBin.vegas is presented to you by the Jimmerson Law Firm. For over twenty-five years, the Jimmerson Law Firm has been widely recognized as one of Las Vegas’s preeminent full-service law firms. Specializing in high stakes business, civil and family litigation, the Jimmerson Law Firm has an unparalleled track record of winning when it matters most. To reach the Jimmerson Law Firm, call (702) 388-7171 and tell them SinBin.vegas sent you.**
— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) November 25, 2018