A health tip led to a life-saving encounter for Brian “Red” Hamilton, assistant equipment manager for the Vancouver Canucks. He was in the player’s box during a hockey game in Seattle in October when a fan started knocking on the plexiglass. Nadia Popovici saw a cancerous spot on the back of his neck and told him to see a doctor. Now Hamilton is cancer-free, and Popovici has a scholarship to study to become a nurse.
An Unexpected Diagnosis
Popovici pressed her phone up to the divider as Hamilton was getting off the bench. The message on the screen read, “The mole on the back of your neck is possibly cancerous. Please go see a doctor!”
Hamilton used the team’s official Twitter account to thank the anonymous young woman for saving his life.
“The reason for the letter (today) was that I really wanted her to know her persistence and everything she did to get my attention, she saved my life,” he wrote.
“That evening, Oct. 23, and the message you showed me on your cell phone will forever be etched into my brain and has made a true life-changing difference for me and my family,” Hamilton’s letter reads. “Your instincts were right and that mole on the back of my neck was a malignant melanoma and thanks to your persistence and the quick work of our doctors, it is now gone.”
During a recent press conference, Hamilton explained that the note “threw me off, so I kind of just shrugged and kept going. And so … I felt bad because I felt like I didn’t really give her the time of day.”
When he went to bed that night, he asked his wife to look at the irregular mole.
Hamilton eventually took the woman’s advice by seeking a professional diagnosis. The doctor, who “didn’t like the looks of it, either,” suggested running a few tests.
He was later diagnosed with malignant melanoma. They caught the cancer early, so all they had to do was remove the mole. Less than a week after seeing the note, Hamilton was cancer-free.
Hamilton referred to Popovici as an “incredible person” for “taking the time to notice something concerning and then finding a way to point it out during the chaos of a hockey game.”
“She didn’t take me out of a burning car like the big stories, but she took me out of a slow fire. And the words out of the doctor’s mouth were, if I ignored that for four to five years I wouldn’t be here,” Hamilton said.
Popovici, 22, was asleep when the tweet went viral as the team’s followers tried to guess the identity of the young woman. Word eventually spread to her mother, who shared the news with her daughter.
Popovici later explained that she was nervous to bring up the issue when she spotted the mole on the back of Hamilton’s neck because it might embarrass him, so she waited until there weren’t as many people around before composing the message on her phone.
“I acknowledge that it’s so uncomfortable to have something on your body pointed out and so I didn’t want to make him feel uncomfortable,” Popovici said. She explained that she recognized the mole from several rows back thanks to her time volunteering at local hospitals. She hoped Hamilton would get it checked out, but never expected to hear anything back.
Popovici watched the press conference on TV where Hamilton called her a “hero.”
She was already planning on attending the team’s game that night, giving her a chance to reunite with Hamilton. They shared a few words and a hug before the game started.
“My mom wants you to know she loves you,” Hamilton told her. He also asked about her plans to go to medical school. Popovici explained that she had been accepted to a couple of schools and planned to start in the summer or fall.
“What an amazing way to start my journey to med school,” Popovici told Hamilton. “It’s pretty priceless.”
During the game, Popovici found out that the team had raised $10,000 to award her a scholarship.
Hamilton reflected on the fateful encounter. “You know, I’ve got a wonderful family. I’ve got a wonderful daughter, and I just think, like, she extended my life. She saved my life,” he said.