By Wayne Simmonds

Recently, as part of my participation in the Hockey Fights Cancer initiative, the NHL asked me to write about who I was fighting for. The first person that came to mind was my Nana, Catherine Mercury.

Growing up in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough, I spent a lot of time with my Nana. We always watched sports together—baseball was her favorite. Her team was the Blue Jays, and she loved Joe Carter. We were watching together when Toronto won back-to-back World Series championships in 1992 and ’93. In 1993, when Carter won the series with a walk-off homer, she cheered louder than anyone in the SkyDome.

Those memories have stayed with me. My Nana is the reason why I always wear a Blue Jays hat. Of course, the people of Philadelphia remember that Toronto beat the Phillies in 1993, so I get yelled at constantly to take my hat off. I have been offered countless Philadelphia hats, but I will always stick with the Blue Jays because of my Nana. 

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

I was seven years old when I woke up one morning to see my Nana being taken out of our house on a stretcher and put into an ambulance. My mom and my uncle were both there. I overheard them saying that she had requested not to be revived. Despite having had a mastectomy two years earlier, in 1995, my Nana had passed away from breast cancer.

I was so young when it happened that the impact of her passing didn’t hit me right away. It wasn’t until her funeral that I realized how much losing her affected me. And at that moment, I also understood how much it affected my family. It was a sad time, but we came together, grieved together, and became a closer family.

This is my seventh season in the NHL, and it’s unbelievable to see how Hockey Fights Cancer has grown since I first started. I remember everyone would wear lavender ties. Then we organized hospital visits, we hosted families at games, we used lavender stick tape. Every year there are more activities to get involved in, and more ways for us players to show our support and help increase awareness.

We see all sorts of people fighting cancer, including young kids. It makes me take a step back and realize that win or lose, compared to what they’re going through, I’m just playing hockey. I’m lucky to get to do what I love every day. It’s a lot easier to go into the corner and take a cross-check than it is to be in the hospital fighting for your life.

I don’t talk about my personal experience with cancer very often, but I’ll do anything to help raise awareness. It’s through campaigns like Hockey Fights Cancer that we remember there is more to life than hockey. Seeing what my Nana went through, it makes me appreciate, and want to support, this initiative that much more.

To learn more or to make a donation, visit


SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.