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Miroshnichenko Reflects on Cancer Fight

November 9, 2023

Hershey Bears forward Ivan Miroshnichenko recently sat down with Bears media specialist Jesse Liebman, and with teammate Dmitry Osipov acting as translator, spoke about his battle in 2022 with Hodgkin lymphoma.

Imagine being a highly-coveted ice hockey prospect, one that has National Hockey League teams salivating at the prospect of being able to select you in the first round - potentially as high as a Top-10 selection - in the upcoming draft. As a teenager, it must feel like the world is yours to conquer.

Now imagine how much of a blow it must be to be informed (on your 18th birthday, no less), that you've been diagnosed with cancer.

While the Hershey Bears prepare for their Hockey Fights Cancer game this Sunday against Lehigh Valley, there is one Bears player who can say he has lived that experience.

Before Ivan Miroshnichenko was taken with the 20th overall pick by the Washington Capitals in the 2022 NHL Draft in June, the forward had been drawing rave reviews from scouts while playing in his native Russia.

But in February of that year, while playing for his domestic club, a mid-season check-up came back with data that prompted Miroshnichenko to be sent to Germany for further diagnostic testing. The results in Germany confirmed a diagnosis - delivered to the teenager on his birthday - of Hodgkin lymphoma, a form of cancer that affects the lymphatic system.

"It was a shock, initially. I couldn't really say anything," Miroshnichenko said. "There were a lot of emotions, a lot of thoughts - it was on my birthday, so that was a hit, and my season was going quite well and everything was going the way I had wanted."

According to the Mayo Clinic, in the case of Hodgkin lymphoma, "white blood cells called lymphocytes grow out of control, causing swollen lymph nodes and growths throughout the body." The American Cancer Society states that it is the most common form of cancer diagnosed in adolescents aged 15-19, but thanks to modern medical advancements, the five-year relative survival rate for all patients diagnosed with Hodgkin lymphoma is now about 89%.

Despite the shock of Miroshnichenko's diagnosis, the early detection enabled him to proactively address it and immediately begin treatment. Miroshnichenko underwent four exhausting rounds of chemotherapy in Germany over a period of several months, with each physically-draining session requiring approximately three weeks, then a rest and recovery period before progressing to the next round.

Throughout the process, Miroshnichenko's family and loved ones were providing support, and the medical advice he was receiving provided him with additional peace of mind.

Miroshnichneko also received words of encouragement throughout the hockey world, including Hockey Hall of Fame legend Mario Lemieux, who battled Hodgkin lymphoma in the 1992-93 season, at the height of his NHL playing career, and who famously returned to action on the day of his final treatment.

Only weeks after receiving his final chemotherapy treatment, Miroshnichneko was walking across the stage at Centre Bell in Montreal, having been selected by the Washington Capitals.

Not everyone's battle with cancer has been, is, or will be the same as what Miroshnichenko went through. But the forward is a firm believer in staying mentally tough in the face of such adversity.

"Just keep moving forward," Miroshnichenko said. "A lot of what my doctors told me was staying strong, not being too hard on myself, and to avoid overthinking stuff. Ultimately you have to keep moving forward."

Asked how he feels about events such as Hershey's upcoming Hockey Fights Cancer Night this Sunday, Miroshnichenko remains humble.

"It's just awesome that there is that much support for people who have had cancer or are battling it. It meant a lot to me that there were people supporting me, keeping me in the right frame of mind; it let me know that everything was going to be fine. And then it's awesome that people can also see that other people go through that stuff as well, and then in some cases they can fully recover and then get back to doing what they love to do."

Now cancer-free, the 19-year-old is adapting to his first year of pro hockey in North America, hoping to one day skate in the NHL while learning a new language and culture. His journey has garnered praise from the man tasked with preparing him to get to the next level.

"First off, he's a fighter - obviously to conquer cancer is a tremendous feat," Bears head coach Todd Nelson said. "Now it's a time when there's a lot of changes for him coming over to North America. He's learning English; he has a lot of challenges ahead of him, just being a young guy in general, playing in the American Hockey League League. He's one of the younger players in the league, he has to adapt to the style, and he's doing a pretty good job with it. But you can see through his character how he was able to fight cancer."

Cancer may have altered Miroshnichenko's plans, but his star remains on the rise.

Written by Jesse Liebman, Bears media specialist.

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