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November 28, 2017

A Family Comes Together To Overcome Cancer

As the Rangers and the NHL take up the fight against the disease, I am grateful that my mother and father are cancer-free.


October 23, 2017: The New York Rangers lose to the San Jose Sharks, 4-1, at Madison Square Garden. The game marks Kevin Shattenkirk's 500th NHL game.

(Photo: Rebecca Taylor/MSG Photos)

The house I grew up in was always noisy. I might have eight friends over, and my brother and three sisters had their friends coming and going. Something was happening in every corner. Everyone knew that my parents, Shelagh and Kevin Sr., would always welcome them. Our house always felt like a safe haven.

When first my mother got sick, none of that changed. Everyone wanted to come to the Hayes house on Westglow Street, in the Dorchester section of Boston. And later, when my father became sick, neighbors and friends again streamed in, everyone part of a large, extended neighborhood family.

Tonight, when the Rangers host Hockey Fights Cancer Night at Madison Square Garden, I will be thinking of their support, and how, really, we can all hold one another up in continuing our shared battle against a disease that touches nearly every family at one point or another. Twice my family faced cancer, and twice we got through it.

I was in middle school when my mom told me she had been diagnosed with colon cancer. Somehow, nothing seemed to change. Perhaps I was too young to fully recognize the seriousness, and my routine stayed constant. I went to school at St. Ann’s Parish, about 50 feet from our front door, and in the afternoon it was off to practice. One season flowed into the next  hockey, baseball and football.

When I returned home each night, my mother never let on if she was having a bad day. The house still smelled of her wonderful cooking. She still made my favorite, crouton crushed chicken. To this day, whenever I come home, she still makes it for me.

Looking back, I think she understood how her illness affected everyone around her, and so she stayed strong for us. She is from the Charlestown section of Boston and is a no nonsense person. She fought her cancer head-on. She was a total warrior, and it was a great relief when about a year and a half later she was pronounced cancer free.

With my mother and father and niece, Neila. Supported by friends and loved ones, we all came together when my parents became sick. (Photo: Courtesy of Kevin Hayes)

Then, while I was a sophomore at Boston College, my father and I were driving home from dinner. He gently told me that he had throat cancer. I was old enough to grasp the full meaning, and I was affected in an entirely different way. I pretended to him that it was all going to be okay, but inside I was scared.

It was hard to see him suffer. In time, he lost his voice, and doctors removed all his teeth. My father is filled with energy and joy, but cancer can sap the spirit right out of you.

My father always coached me growing up and never missed a game. He was the same way with my older brother, Jimmy (now with the Devils). When I played in college, my dad bought season tickets for the family at both ends of the ice. He had everyone change seats between periods so he could see me skating towards him the entire game. It was strange, kind of a punch, when suddenly I would skate past his seat and not see him.

I am grateful now to have a platform to inspire others every chance I get — sharing my experience with children and others dealing with cancer. Tonight, as part of the NHL’s league-wide efforts to raise money and awareness, my teammates and I will skate onto The Garden ice during warmups wearing lavender jerseys, our sticks taped in lavender, and using special pucks. We will sign all the items, which will be available on an online auction. They will also go on sale at MSG Team stores to benefit the battle against cancer.

When my dad got sick, my teammates on the Boston College Eagles posted his name on a prayer board in the locker room. Two years later, just around Christmas, I was driving home from college when I got the call I had wished for. It was my dad, telling me that, as with my mother, his cancer was gone. When my team found out, we celebrated together.

My Ranger teammates, too, have gotten to know my father. He’s the one telling jokes. He makes dinner reservations for them when we’re in Boston. He has a hello for everyone. Seeing him, once again in his seat, watching us play, is a blessing we all share.

A 25-year-old forward and former first round draft selection, Kevin Hayes is now in his fourth season with the Rangers.


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