Makayla Strong: Eight-year-old’s love of hockey continues through cancer battle

Makayla Russell has formed a special bond with NHL player T.J. Oshie during her fight with Stage 4 Cancer

ROANOKE, Va. – Makayla’s love for hockey started at a very young age. She was playing in the street back in May when we first met the active eight-year-old. She had just been diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer.

“It’s been a roller coaster, we’ve had good times and bad times. She’s had good days and bad days. But, you know, she’s the strongest person I’ve met in my entire life,” said Makayla’s dad, Gary Russell.

Since her diagnosis, Makayla has won over the hearts of many, being a fan favorite at Railyard Dawgs games and throwing out the first pitch at a Salem Red Sox game.

“It was really amazing and I got one of their jerseys too,” said Makayla.

She made a special bond with Washington Capitals forward T.J. Oshie, even walking the red carpet with him.

“When she walked the red carpet with T.J., nobody else existed. She walked down through there like she’s done it 20 times before,” Gary added.

The Capitals also featured her on their Hockey Fights Cancer game, where Oshie gave her one of his hockey sticks.

“It was great, it was nice to see her smiling and happy and enjoying it,” said Makayla’s mom, Tanya Russell

All of this while in the midst of her cancer battle. Makayla had countless doctor visits, but even in the hospital, her hockey family wasn’t far from her heart.

“She’s had a few ups and downs, she was kind of actually sick most of October and November,” Tanya said.

She finished her radiation in the fall and her chemotherapy will be less frequent soon.

“She’s got to finish her second round of chemo, which is about another six to eight weeks, then after that it will be eight to ten months of a maintenance schedule. Three weeks on, one week off,” Gary explained.

So, now this brave little girl is counting her jerseys and goofing off with her brother and is back in her happy place, on the ice.

About the Author

Alyssa Rae grew up in Roanoke and graduated from Virginia Tech. An avid sports fan, she spent her first 8 years in TV as a sports anchor and reporter.

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