Christine Ianev is visited by Ducks players (from left) Dustin Penner,… (Debora Robinson / Anaheim…)
Surrounded by a room full of NHL players, high school freshman Christine Ianev sat on her hospital bed with a beanie atop her head and saw the Ducks' eyes straying to a wall with a photo collage.
Visiting Christine and other patients at Children's Hospital Orange County last week, Corey Perry, Dustin Penner and Sheldon Souray locked in on a snapshot of the 14-year-old from Aliso Viejo, the one showing her with a full head of brown hair, standing gracefully at Dana Point's Salt Creek.
"Is this you in these pics?" a player asked. "Wow!" they said. "Are you a model?"
"I would like to be, one day," said Christine, a trained piano player and singer.
The photo, snapped two days before Christine began her second round of chemotherapy and four days before she lost her hair, already meant something important to her — an illustration of where she used to be.
And where she longs to return.
Christine is fighting for her life since being diagnosed with a type of bone cancer known as Ewing's sarcoma on Sept. 20. In addition to the steady rounds of chemotherapy, she faces surgery on her left leg in January.
Getting a break from the mental and physical strain was appreciated, as Christine's mother, Lina, thanked the Ducks for coming to CHOC immediately after their final full practice before Tuesday's rivalry game against the Kings.
"You play tomorrow? This means so much," Christine said, clutching a blanket that was part of a care package the players gave each patient they visited. "This will be in use right away."
Among a group of more than 20 Ducks who came to the hospital was veteran center Saku Koivu, who overcame a 2001 cancer diagnosis to play again and captain the Montreal Canadiens in 2002.
During the visit, Koivu and his group sang "Happy Birthday" to one child.
"We tried to give them something else to think about and bring some smiles to their faces as they go through some tough times," Koivu said. "I remember being in the hospital .… Whenever I found any reason to smile or be happy, it made it easier. That's what it was all about."
Ducks defenseman Ben Lovejoy and team legend Teemu Selanne became fast friends with 13-year-old Fidel Poasencia of Lake Forest, who's undergoing chemotherapy to battle lymphoma.
Selanne didn't hesitate to don a frilly red-and-white-fuzzed Santa cap to brighten the mood, with teammate Mathieu Perreault choosing a green elf-style version.
"How old are you? Do you like hockey?" Selanne asked Fidel.
One patient whose spirit was instantly transformed was Giovanni Jauregui, 13, of Anaheim. As the players exited his room, Giovanni wore a broad smile while shuffling through a deck of signed photos left behind.
"They gave me all this stuff, and asked me what I want for Christmas too," said Giovanni, recovering from a bone marrow transplant.
Souray was deeply moved by the visit.
"It's so hard in the holidays," Souray said. "We're so fortunate that most of us have healthy families. To come here and see these kids who aren't as fortunate, but are still smiling, joking with us. Any little bit of getting their mind out of the situation they're in is helpful."
One young girl quickly dressed as goalie Viktor Fasth with the Ducks' merchandise and hurried back down the hallway to get a picture with the players.
"Look how lucky we are!" a father said to his patient son as the players entered another room.
Souray said he had made several visits like this one while playing previously for Montreal, Edmonton and Dallas. Transitioning from a single man to a father has changed his perspective.
"What these parents in here do .… I used to do these visits, leave and think, 'that kind of stinks,' and go do my day," Souray said. "Now, you take that drive home in quiet and think, 'Wow, my kids are healthy …. ' It's amazing what strength and courage can do, because these kids have a lot of it."
Shane Williams, 16, a baseball player from Sunny Hills High, spent Thanksgiving in the hospital and was told he should expect to remain through Christmas as he battles leukemia and a weakened immune system with a treatment schedule set at more than three years.
"They told me to stay strong, have a good mind-set and invited me to one of their games when I get out," Shane said.
Souray relayed Koivu's story to Shane, telling the boy of his teammate's courage, how Koivu treated cancer as if "it's just another tough game against the Blackhawks .… So don't think you're not going to make it out of it and continue your dream of playing baseball."
Since the Ducks have stood as one of the Western Conference leaders early this season, thoughts of a possible Stanley Cup title have surfaced.
Did the Ducks dedicate themselves to winning the Cup for the patients?
"I'd never say that to the newspaper," Souray said. "But, of course. To every one of them."