The story of Mitch Marner and how he inspired a six year old girl to beat cancer

“She is my hero,” says the star Leafs forward.

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If you haven’t read columnist Mike Zeisberger’s latest article on Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mitch Marner and his relationship with six year old Hayden Foulon, do yourself a favour and keep a box of tissues handy because it’s a tear jerker.

Hayden Foulon, 6, was declared leukemia-free in the spring. In July it was back. Here’s the story of how Marner has inspired the London, Ont. girl in her fight to live - & how she's inspired him in life.

Hayden has battled acute lymphoblastic leukemia for almost five years. She was first diagnosed when she was  less than two years old. Her mother Lindsay estimates her daughter has spent almost a year of her life in various hospitals in London, Toronto and Philadelphia. 

She was declared cancer free this past spring, but in July it resurfaced. The battle continues for Hayden, but she’s not alone.

"She is my hero," says Marner with tears welling up in his eyes. "What she has gone through and the way she has fought in her brief life is an inspiration for all of us. All I want to do is to try to bring some happiness to her life any way I can."

Marner’s admiration of Hayden goes both ways. 

"Him making a big deal out of her has made her happy," said Hayden's mother, Lindsay. "And I will always be grateful for that. Nothing is more important than whatever happiness she can have.

"With her being in the hospital for such a long time, she doesn't have the opportunity to go to school and make friends. She doesn't get to be a normal kid. Just by him saying she's his friend, he's acknowledging her. That makes her feel important. And it's given her a lot of strength and a lot of courage.

"She's on cloud nine when we talk to her about him. Seeing her light up makes the crummy days feel less crummy. When she smiles, we smile. We take the good and the bad. And unfortunately, there have been some bad days. 

"The things Mitch has done for her have made her the happiest kid."

Marner sent Hayden an autograph canvas for her birthday March 2, then invited her entire family to the Marner Assist Fund charity event this past August. 

"He was incredible," Lindsay said. "He arranged for a fire truck -- a real full-sized one -- to be there for her. They took lots of photos."

Marner's father, Paul, who helped organize the event, offered to send Hayden to Walt Disney World via the Marner Assist Fund. Lindsay suggested Hayden's real thrill would be to go to a Maple Leafs game, which they did for the home opener against the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 3.

"Having her down at the opening game was amazing," Mitchell Marner said. "Just the smile on her face … it meant so much. It was a life-changing experience for both of us. Just want to make every moment last, and make sure she enjoys it. We've grown very close in past years."

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