“In honor of those who have battled and won, and those still fighting, in memory of those we have lost, the gloves are off—give a little love, give blood!”—Katie Meister, Jaela’s mom and biggest fan
Young hockey phenom Jaela O’Brien—a tough-as-nails goalie—is shooting for the perfect hat-trick: play hockey, beat cancer, and help find a cure to save the lives of other kids battling this life-threatening disease. Facing a 158-week treatment plan to fight leukemia, within the first year she endured 258 doses of chemotherapy, multiple hospitalizations and ER visits, an endless number of high-dose steroid injections, countless spinal taps, and many units of transfused blood. Thanks to the overwhelming support from her teammates and hockey community, her family and neighbors, and generous blood donors, Jaela is still fighting and winning to live her life, each and every day.
Looking back to when their valiant battle against cancer began, Jaela’s mom, Katie Meister, recalls, “Jaela lives and breathes hockey, and for us it was just an ordinary day. She spent hours on the ice, defending the goal like always. But by the next morning, my usually tough and strong Jaela was too weak to carry her own hockey equipment. I immediately knew something was wrong.”
The next 24 hours were life-changing for this hockey family. Jaela’s emergency trip to the hospital revealed she had Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL)—a childhood cancer of the blood and bone marrow that causes white blood cells to overproduce and crowd out normal cells.
“My first thought was hockey,” Jaela remembers. “I didn’t know when I would be able to get back on the ice.” She also recalls being worried about letting her hockey family down and not being able to pursue her dream. But on the day of her diagnosis her treatment plan began immediately and there was little time to think about the future. Jaela would need all of her hockey strength to help her power through. “She received 28 AMAZING units of blood during those early months of treatment,” said Katie. “And I’m so thankful for those who gave blood and continue to donate. I want them all to know that just one blood donation can make a child’s sickest and darkest days tolerable, bringing hope and survival.”
Despite ongoing treatments, the ice rink was where Jaela’s heart and passion remained. She battled and fought her way back to the ice just three months after her diagnosis. As her mother recalls, her return was anything but easy, “She thought she would just pick up where she left off.” Instead, she went from playing 114 periods of hockey the previous season—facing 1050 shots and saving 974 of them—to struggling to remain on the ice for just a few minutes at a time. Today, Jaela continues to display nothing but perseverance and resolve to remain on the ice while fighting her cancer off the ice. As part of her own battle and in search of a cure, she donates her blood, bone marrow, and spinal fluid to research on a regular basis. Her family continues to raise awareness of childhood cancer through Jaela’s Ultimate Cancer Shutout which hosts multiple events—from golf tournaments and car washes to auctions—that pay homage to the way Jaela is able to shut out competitors on the ice. They also host annual blood drives, encouraging all to give blood for those whose lives depend on it. This team is committed to support and rally for Jaela and all kids fighting cancer!