The New York Islanders gave the Graham family of Oceanside, and four other families, the surprise of a lifetime on April 22. Islanders co-owner Jon Ledecky gave all the families playoff tickets for the April 23 playoff game against the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Grahams, whose 1-year-old son Cooper has been fighting retinoblastoma, sadly received a new diagnosis a few days after the surprise: The cancer has spread and is no longer treatable. But for one Sunday, the family came together to cheer on their favorite team, which unfortunately lost the game, 5-2.
Parents Rachel and Michael Graham grew up watching the Islanders in their homes, and when they had their kids -— Riley, 5, and Cooper — they all started watching the games together. So, as longtime Islanders fans, they were thrilled to receive the tickets and attend the game at the UBS Arena, where they had never been. Ledecky also had another surprise: tickets for Michael’s firehouse, Hose Company No. 3, along with T-shirts and hats.
Rachel expressed her gratitude for the gesture and continued support her family has received, within and beyond the community, in their time of need. “There aren’t really words to describe the feeling that our community has been behind us this entire time. And it’s really, just, there aren’t any words,” she said.
The Islanders started a relationship with the Graham family through their visits to Cohen’s Children Hospital, where they’ve visited Cooper and similar patients to cheer them up.
“It’s very inspiring for families, when sport organizations and organizations in general do things like this for families, because when you’re going through such a tough time that like we are right now, being able to go to a game with your family and get out and have a change of pace really helps, you know, helps a situation,” said Michael, “it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing.”
Ledecky expressed his admiration for the families’ strength and resilience in the face of adversity.
“My initial reaction is wow, these families are so strong, and the kids are even stronger. And their love for the Islanders in the playoffs is propelling them and distracting them and getting them stronger and better. And the fact that some of them can come to the games and be with their families tomorrow is so meaningful, and those that can’t make it are going to be there in spirit,” he said.
The Islanders have a strong tradition of giving back to the community, with players like Anders Lee leading the way. Lee, who was drafted by the Islanders in 2009, has emerged as one of the most prolific goal scorers in the National Hockey League.
He founded the Anders Lee Kancer Jam in 2017 to help children with cancer, after being inspired by the speech of Fenov Pierre-Louis, a 15-year-old cancer patient, the year prior at the Third Annual Scotch Plains Kancer Jam.
“I think the work that Anders Lee does with his cancer charity for children really rings true how important it is in the community to have someone like Anders do that work and to tell us that we should come visit these folks and give them tickets to the playoffs because he wants them there. He wants to inspire them as he is inspired by them,” said Ledecky.
Ledecky added that bringing joy to the community is among the ways the Islanders give back to their fans.
“To bring this joy of tickets and signed autographs of their favorite players and Sparky, playing with all the young kids, what a great thing to be able to do for our fellow residents of Long Island,” he said. “I could do this all day because it makes my heart sing with joy. When they score a goal, we all score a goal, and when these folks get better, when these kids get better, we scored the ultimate goal of all, which is health and happiness for our community friends.”