When the Washington Capitals' Lars Eller scored the winning goal in double overtime against the Columbus Blue Jackets last month, the loudest cheers came not from D.C., but from Minnesota. That's where lifelong superfan Amanda Wilson was watching the game, clad in a Caps jersey signed by some of her favorite NHL players. "She was ecstatic," Adrian Wilson, Amanda's husband, says.
Amanda, Adrian and their two youngest children, Ian, 3, and Emery, 8 months, had relocated from their Virginia home just weeks before so Amanda could begin treatment for a rare cancer, leiomyosarcoma of the inferior vena cava. Research and advice from vascular surgeons had all pointed to one place — and one person — for treatment: Thomas Bower, M.D., a vascular surgeon at Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus. Which is why the Wilsons were far from their beloved Capitals — who the couple have cheered on in person together close to a hundred times — during playoffs.
During the game, Amanda was wearing a jersey sent to her by a college acquaintance who knew her devotion to the team. On the back of the jersey is #AMANDASTRONG and the No. 20. That's the number Amanda wore in high school as she helped lead her team to a state soccer championship. (It's also Eller's number, which made that game-winning goal even sweeter.) Amanda has worn the jersey for every playoff game since, reports The Washington Post, including game 3 of the conference finals, which she and Adrian attended between her chemotherapy and radiation treatments, and game 7, which put the Caps in the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in 20 years. (There's that number again.)
"They tell us that staying positive is in and of itself a great means to fighting this disease," Adrian says. "If that is the case, and I believe it is, then the Capitals, and hockey in general, have truly helped my wife in this fight."
So has Amanda's background as a competitor. "Being an athlete has helped me face this cancer diagnosis in so many ways," she tells us. "The first thing that stands out to me is being part of a team … My family and friends are my team, and they have all come together to help me fight this." She also credits her "fighting spirit" for helping her persevere on the inevitable hard days. "I know how to dig deep into my soul and push for one more mile," she says. "That is what this battle with cancer is for me. There will be times when I feel like I can't do any more, and I will have to find the strength deep inside to keep going. I will never give up."
Neither will another team: the doctors, nurses and other staff at Mayo Clinic working hard to make sure Amanda wins her fight. "I have such confidence in every member of my care team, and I know I have the best physicians working to save my life," she says. "That kind of confidence really helps in my situation." So, too, does a different kind of treatment. "Every person involved in my care has treated me like a person," Amanda tells us. "I have never felt like a number or just another patient. Mayo treats millions of people, but when I am with my doctors, they make me feel like I am their No. 1 priority."
And that gives Amanda hope that she'll be able to return to her No. 1 priorities soon. "I am fighting this disease for my family," she tell us. "I will do everything and anything I can to beat this so I can raise my children and grow old with my husband."
We're cheering for you, Amanda.
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