Arcade games, pizza and his good friend Fenov. It’s a day that Anders Lee will never forget.
As the New York Islanders captain and his wife Grace spent an afternoon with Fenov Pierre-Louis, you wouldn’t have been able to tell what the teenager was going through.
At age nine, Fenov was diagnosed with Stage IV neuroblastoma, a type of childhood cancer that forms in the nerve tissue of the adrenal glands. He experienced chemotherapy, immunotherapy, numerous surgeries, radiation treatments and stem cell transplants that led to some victories, but also relapses. He fought for nearly half of his life.
“You learn from someone like that who’s going through some really tough times, a lot of treatment, a lot of pain and not necessarily a good outlook,” Lee told Pro Hockey Talk this week. “But to have a smile on his face like he did and how optimistic he was and how positive he was, it kind of just puts life into perspective a little bit. To go through a tough time in the rink, sometimes it’s feels like it’s everything around you, but it’s really not, it’s a small part of our lives. That part of gaining a little bit of perspective and enjoying this and making the most of it really is special. He was a perfect example of that.”
Lee first learned of Fenov after seeing a speech the teenager gave following a 2016 event. At that time, the Islanders forward was researching ways to make an impact in the community. The KanJam event and helping pediatric cancer patients matched what he was looking for. He was already familiar with the game, having played it regularly while at Notre Dame.
The first Anders Lee Kancer Jam was held in 2017 and raised over $90,000. Last season’s event broke the $100,000 mark. All proceeds benefit Cohen Children’s Medical Center, a Long Island hospital that Islanders players have visited annually.
Sadly, Fenov passed away in July at the age of 17, two months after he joined Lee in Denmark as the Islanders forward represented the U.S. at the IIHF World Championship and later fulfilled a lifelong dream of touring Italy. His absence at this year’s event, which will take place after Sunday’s afternoon game versus the Dallas Stars, will give it a different feel.
“It changes. You have this wonderful friendship with someone and it’s for such a short period of time and it was so special,” Lee said. “But now that we’ve lost Fenov, this does mean a lot even more to me and to Grace, to everyone involved. It’s definitely going to be tough the first time without him. He was the one who I handed the mic to first because he always had something special to say. This year I’m obviously not going to be able to hand it to him. I’ll have to fill his shoes a little bit.”
The idea for Jam Kancer in the Kan was hatched in 2014 by Jamey Crimmins, who raised money for Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center by running with “Fred’s Team” during that year’s New York City Marathon. Crimmins’ father-in-law and close friend passed away from cancer and after playing Kan Jam that summer, he decided to use the popular outdoor frisbee game as another way to fundraise. The first event in 2014 raised $14,296 with 24 teams participating.
Current NHLers Kevin Shattenkirk of the New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres defenseman Zach Bogosian held events last season. Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller of the Tampa Bay Lightning will host their own “Kan Jam” in February.
Lee’s Islanders teammates will all be on hand Sunday. The tournament will feature players paired up against teams of two who have raised at least $2,000. There will also be some pediatric cancer patients in attendance, allowing them a few hours away from hospitals and treatment for smiles and some fun.
To Lee, Fenov was “the toughest guy” he knew. The relationship left a lasting impact on the Islanders captain. Never one to allow a slump or tough times to wear on him, being able to be around the teenager and see him inspire others while going through a battle of his own was something that will not be forgotten.
“Any one who had a chance to meet him understood how wise beyond his years he really was and the presence that he had when you were around him and with him,” said Lee. “Fenov was one of the most caring people I’ve ever met. You never would have known what he was going through, that’s how strong he was. He didn’t ever let it get to him. He always had a smile on his face. [He was] one of those people that comes in your life and just makes an immediate impact on you.”
Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.