Irvington woman beats cancer, celebrates with the NJ Devils

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

IRVINGTON / NEWARK, NJ — If she hadn’t already been a fan before, Irvington resident Shantel Cogman is certainly a lifetime fan of the New Jersey Devils now. On Sunday, March 6, Cogman was treated to the Devils game against the St. Louis Blues, which went 3-2 Devils in overtime. This experience was arranged by RWJBarnabas Health to celebrate Cogman beating cancer.

Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2021, Cogman rang the finishing bell on her chemotherapy treatments late last year, on her 37th birthday. In addition to cheering on the Devils alongside her husband, Anthony, prior to the game Cogman got to meet her favorite player, Dawson Mercer. She also did something every fan has dreamed of doing: She got to ride the zamboni during the second intermission.

“Meeting ‘Mercy’ — ‘Mercy’ Mercer, that’s what I call him — meeting him was amazing because he was so down to earth, so cool. He asked me a lot of personal questions about me and my husband so it was a real nice conversation just talking to him on that real, personal level,” Cogman told the Irvington Herald on March 18. “Even with me as a fan and him as a celebrity, he was just so down to earth, and I knew then, yeah, this is my player for sure. And watching him score and everything — I literally jumped out of my seat and was screaming, ‘Go Mercy!’ through the whole game. Every time the crowd got quiet, I would scream out his name.

“Riding the zamboni was definitely a great, great, great experience. You are literally on the ice and you get to see the whole arena from the players’ point of view. Of course, it’s different because they’re under pressure,” she continued. “Being on the Jumbotron was real cool, to see myself up there. And just riding it, because it was so different to clean the ice and make it smooth for them. It was a little tricky though, because the seat is real tiny, so you have to make sure you keep real still so you don’t fall off.”

Cogman and her husband became Devils fans due to their strong desire to support a New Jersey team.

“Actually, my husband introduced me to the Devils, because I remember I was living in the Virgin Islands at the time and he was really upset because they sold the Nets at the time. He was like, ‘OK, now we don’t have any teams in New Jersey.’ But there was the N.J. Devils,” Cogman said. “So we always purchased the merchandise, but we never went to an actual Devils game until we got the chance through the hospital, and so doing that was basically my first experience with hockey in person. Before that my experience was, growing up in the islands, watching ‘The Mighty Ducks.’”

In 2021, Cogman, the mother of four boys, was breastfeeding her youngest when she noticed a lump on her breast that did not go away. She went to the Healthcare Foundation of New Jersey Breast Health Center at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center for a mammogram and was recommended to have a biopsy. The test determined that she had a triple-positive HER2 tumor, and further genetic testing revealed that she had the BRCA2 gene.

Cogman started chemotherapy treatment in July of 2021 at the Dr. Frederick B. Cohen Comprehensive Cancer and Blood Disorders Center at NBIMC, an RWJBarnabas Health facility and a clinical component of Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey, the state’s only National Cancer Institute–designated Comprehensive Cancer Center.

At the Devils game, the Cogmans were joined by Dr. Sari Jacoby, the current medical director of the Dr. Frederick B. Cohen Comprehensive Cancer and Blood Disorders Center.

“We were thrilled to work with the Devils to provide Shantel with a once-in-a lifetime special experience,” said Justin Edelman, senior vice president of corporate partnerships at RWJBarnabas Health, on March 21. “Recognizing the many challenges Shantel has endured, she is truly an inspiration to so many, and that smile on her face was priceless. Her positive mindset is remarkable, and it was rewarding to see her enjoy the experience alongside her husband, Anthony.”

During her treatment, Cogman saw the philanthropic aspect of participating in a clinical trial. She believed that being in a clinical trial would benefit her and help contribute to finding better ways to treat cancer in the future. She also spoke with another woman recently diagnosed with breast cancer who was nervous about receiving chemotherapy, and she looks forward to doing more to pay it forward and help others.

According to Cogman, the key to beating cancer is fighting.

“Whatever you do, every day, get up and fight,” Cogman said. “Having cancer is not a death sentence. You still have control over your lives; (my advice is to keep) just showing up every morning and just understanding that this journey is temporary and just to keep fighting.

Photos Courtesy of RWJBarnabas Health