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Lightning’s Ryan McDonagh, Alex Killorn look to ‘Jam Kancer’

McDonagh and Killorn will hold a kan jam tournament to benefit the adolescent and young adult program at Moffitt Cancer Center.
Ryan McDonagh and Alex Killorn pose with cancer survivors at a dinner to learn more about Moffitt Cancer Center's adolescent and young adult program at Ulele on Feb. 5.
Ryan McDonagh and Alex Killorn pose with cancer survivors at a dinner to learn more about Moffitt Cancer Center's adolescent and young adult program at Ulele on Feb. 5. [ DIANA C. NEARHOS | TIMES ]
Published Feb. 6, 2020
Updated Feb. 6, 2020

TAMPA — Alex Killorn’s Instagram post piqued Lizette Robles’ interest. Robles works at Moffitt Cancer Center and had met the Lightning wing when he visited the facility a few years ago.

Killorn had posted a story about organizing a kan jam event to benefit cancer-fighting efforts.

Robles had no idea what kan jam was — it involves two players trying to throw a flying disc into opposite cans in a style similar to cornhole, with similar scoring — but she knew she wanted Moffitt to get involved with the event. She reached out to Savannah Deisering, the partnership activation manager she works with at the Lightning, and Killorn and Ryan McDonagh visited the facility a few days later.

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With the Lightning home this week — they face the Penguins at 7 Thursday night at Amalie Arena — Killorn and McDonagh are hosting a “Jam Kancer in the Kan” tournament from 5-8 p.m. Friday at Sparkman Wharf in Tampa to benefit Moffitt’s Adolescent and Young Adult Program.

“We feel pretty fortunate,” Killorn said. “And it was time that we can give back to the community. We’re guys that have been here for a little bit (Killorn is in his eighth season with the Lightning) and hopefully will be here for a little bit longer to continue this tradition.”

Spectator tickets are available at crowdrise.com/mkjam. They cost $100 and double as raffle tickets. Two spectators will be selected to choose a friend and play on Killorn’s and McDonagh’s teams.

The idea for the event originated when McDonagh, Lightning defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk and former Lightning forward J.T. Miller were with the Rangers.

Shattenkirk hosted a kan jam tournament each of his two years in New York. McDonagh and Miller played at his first event before they were traded to the Lightning. They started to plan an event in Tampa Bay, then Miller was traded to the Canucks in June.

Killorn was quick to hop on board. He knew Moffitt from the Lightning’s work with it. He and McDonagh visited a few organizations in the bay area and looked into some across the state.

Moffitt’s program for young adults with cancer stood out to them. It serves 19- to 39-year-olds, an underserved group. Many cancer organizations focus on pediatric and adult oncology.

“It’s such a transition point in your life,” McDonagh said. “We’re both in our 30s now (McDonagh and Killorn turned 30 last year), and we can’t imagine finding out you have cancer now while you’re making plans for a family, dealing with hospital bills while you’re trying to have a family and get your career established.”

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Both players thought of athletes with cancer. For Killorn, that was Oskar Lindblom, a 23-year-old Flyer recently diagnosed with Ewing sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. McDonagh thought of University of Minnesota football player Casey O’Brien, 20, a four-time cancer survivor.

The players hosted a dinner for some of Moffitt’s survivors — including Joshua Rivera, who had a lot to do with creating the center’s program — at Tampa restaurant Ulele on Wednesday to hear more about their stories and what the program has done for them.

Rivera, 40, was diagnosed with Ewing soft-cell sarcoma 13 years ago and completed his treatments 11 years ago this week. He transferred to Dr. Damon Reed, who had a vision for a program for adolescents and young adults, an age group seeing a decrease in survival rates while the rates go up for children and older people.

For some, that decrease is because young people can’t or don’t commit to the full treatment while also trying to start their lives. At his time of diagnosis, Rivera had a 15 percent chance of survival.

Reed pitched the program to Rivera and invited him to serve on the patient advisory council. Rivera has been involved since. One of Rivera’s focuses is helping male patients bank sperm because chemotherapy and radiation prevent natural insemination. Ten years after he finished treatment, Rivera still cannot have children naturally.

“It’s become one of my passions,” he said. “I don’t want someone to be prevented from the possibility of having a child because they didn’t have the money to bank sperm at the time.”

Moffitt’s program also helps coordinate medical and social services, and offers support groups. For Rivera it also was important to connect with people going through something similar. His friends couldn’t necessarily relate to what he was going through during his treatment.

“It’s great to have people of this caliber in society behind that mission,” Rivera said of McDonagh and Killorn.

Contact Diana C. Nearhos at dnearhos@tampabay.com. Follow @dianacnearhos.

This story has been corrected to reflect Rivera’s age.