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Leafs superfan completes two-item bucket list: Beat cancer and attend first game

Against all odds, octogenarian Jean Mooney stared cancer in the face and made her lifelong dream come true

Jean Mooney at her first Toronto Maple Leafs game. (Photo courtesy: Tomas Skrlj, Leafs Media)

Jean Mooney had just two things on her bucket list: Beat cancer and attend a Toronto Maple Leafs home game.

On Feb. 29, at Toronto's Scotiabank Arena, Mooney, now 82 and cancer-free, cheered from the stands as the Leafs took on the Arizona Coyotes — marking a dream come true for both herself and her family.

"Over the span of being a die-hard Leafs fan for 62 years, she just had never gone to a game," Mooney's daughter, Karen Mooney-Stewart told Yahoo News Canada. "It was fulfilling a life dream that night to see her boys."

Jean Mooney attends first-ever Leafs game after beating cancer. (Photo courtesy: Karen Mooney-Stewart)
Jean Mooney attends first-ever Leafs game after beating cancer. (Photo courtesy: Karen Mooney-Stewart)

Hockey Night in Canada: A family tradition

Mooney-Stewart's parents immigrated from Scotland in 1962, so they had never followed hockey before life in Canada.

"Once in Canada, they were exposed to ice hockey in all different forms, [even] attending games of their friends' children ... the Leafs were the home team so they would follow every single one of their games," Mooney-Stewart said.

A Saturday night ritual for the Mooneys was having family over or going to family's houses to watch the Leafs games for Hockey Night in Canada. Mooney-Stewart said through all the changes of a growing family — children leaving the home and having children of their own — her mother's deep love for the Leafs and the sport never faded.

"My nephew plays hockey and she will go to every game of his," Mooney-Stewart said. "She will go to any hockey game available, and show up at the arena early just so she can see whatever game is on before that."

Stage 3 cancer diagnosis: 'I'm going to beat this'

A dark cloud settled over the Mooney household in May 2022 when Mooney was diagnosed with Stage 3 Lung cancer.

Mooney-Stewart said her mother is not easy to scare. At the first mention of cancer, her mother simply said "I'm going to beat this."

Jean Mooney pictured wearing a Maple Leafs jersey. (Photo courtesy: Karen Mooney-Stewart)
Jean Mooney pictured wearing a Maple Leafs jersey. (Photo courtesy: Karen Mooney-Stewart)

"At the time, her oncologist believed it to be inoperable and was recommending pain management," Mooney-Stewart said.

On the possibility of surgery, Mooney-Stewart said they were told an operation would reduce her lung capacity to a point she would no longer be able to sustain herself.

"We asked for additional tests to be done as we felt she would be able to handle the surgery," Mooney-Stewart said.

On Aug. 30, 2022, Mooney underwent surgery to remove the upper lobe of her right lung.

"It was a really rough surgery at her age, her recovery time was super long and we were aware she would be oxygen-dependant, which she is," Mooney-Stewart said. "Her recovery was long and hard, but she fought through it."

Against all odds, Mooney-Stewart said her mom marked her one-year all-clear of cancer in September 2023.

"Nobody ever expected her to come through this and be cancer-free without chemo, radiation — just the surgery," Mooney-Stewart said. "She's accepted every new challenge like a warrior."

February 29, 2024: A night to remember

Mooney's lifelong dream of attending a Leafs game came true on Feb. 29.

"With everything she's been through and maintaining such a positive attitude, she deserves to see a game." Mooney-Stewart said.

With the help of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment, they were able to secure accessible seating and managed to get Mooney down to ice-level to see the pre-game skate.

Jean Mooney at the ice-level at Toronto's Scotiabank arena. (Photo courtesy: Karen Mooney-Stewart)
Jean Mooney at the ice-level at Toronto's Scotiabank arena. (Photo courtesy: Karen Mooney-Stewart)

"You almost forget she's an old woman because she looks like a kid at their first game," Mooney-Stewart said, pointing to just how excited her mom was to be at the game. "The look on her face was one of pure joy."

Mooney even made it onto the jumbotron, where she proudly waved her sign which read that she had an 80-year bucket list with two checkmarks next to "beat cancer" and "attend my 1st Leafs game" — all while holding her glass of wine.

"The crowd went crazy and everyone was clapping for her," Mooney-Stewart said.

Jean Mooney on the Scotiabank Arena jumbotron. (Photo courtesy: Karen Mooney-Stewart)
Jean Mooney on the Scotiabank Arena jumbotron. (Photo courtesy: Karen Mooney-Stewart)

"Afterwards, people were seeking her out from all over the stadium and congratulating her on beating cancer and attending her first game," Mooney-Stewart said. "She felt like the queen."

"It was the best of humanity that night, we saw the best of every person," Mooney-Stewart said.

Mooney-Stewart said the sense of euphoria lasted the whole hour-and-a-half drive home. An avid bingo player, Mooney still never misses an opportunity to talk about that night with fellow players at the bingo hall.

Mooney-Stewart said her mother has a very simple message to folks going through similar battles: "Tell them to never stop fighting, because if I'm here, they can be here."

Jean Mooney at Toronto Maple Leafs game on Feb. 29. (Photo courtesy: Thomas Skrlj, Leafs Media)
Jean Mooney at Toronto Maple Leafs game on Feb. 29. (Photo courtesy: Thomas Skrlj, Leafs Media)