New Haven, Conn. (WTNH) - There's a new addition to the Yale Women's Hockey Team and she's just nine years old. Like another member of the team, she found herself in a fight for her life when she was diagnosed with brain cancer.
Nine-year-old Giana Cardonita walked out onto center ice at the Yale arena recently to drop the ceremonial first puck for a Yale women's ice hockey game.
"I was very excited," she said. "Even before I got to do it I was giggling with excitement."
She was surrounded by people in the arena wearing number 17 jerseys in honor of Yale hockey player Mandi Schwartz who is battling cancer. Giana is battling her own tumors.
"Giana was diagnosed with a brain tumor back on August 25," her mom Donna Cardonita said. "August 26th she was operated on."
While she has had many medical problems and has lost her stem to the pituitary gland, she has not lost her sense of humor.
"I already have my pituitary stem knocked out, I don't want to get my teeth knocked out," she said. And she's ready to play hockey. "I am, I am, since they wear mouth guards."
The Yale women adopted Giana as a teammate at the beginning of the season when she needed the love and support the most. Shortly after she was released from the hospital the team surprised the little girl by showing up at her house, bringing her gifts and food.
"This means a lot to me," Giana said. "They are like my adoptive sisters.
"They came to my house Sunday and they were like basically strangers, but now they are like family."
The team surprised Giana again after the first hockey game, bringing her down into the locker room and giving her her very own jersey to place in her very own locker. It will be Giana's for the season. She says sitting in the locker room with the team, seeing the number 17 hanging on the wall, she feels close to Mandi, even though the hockey player is 3,000 miles away in Seattle recovering from transplant surgery.
"I can kind of relate to being in a hospital for a long time, and basically I'm like a mini-Mandi for now," Giana said.
Her message to Mandi: "I hope you are feeling better and I wish you were here."
"What can you say," her mother Donna said. "You've got a group of girls that are, for one little girl all come together. You know, it takes a special team to do that."
The team says they will be with Giana every step of the way.
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