When Lauren Hart, the long-time National Anthem singer for the Philadelphia Flyers, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 1999, much of her life came to a halt.
She lost her recording contract with Columbia Records. She was dropped by her manager. Friends and colleagues began distancing themselves from her.
“There was a lot of uncertainty at that time,” said Lauren. Her promising future in the music industry suddenly seemed tenuous. “I lost a lot of my career at that point.”
To make matters worse, she was grieving the death of her father, the beloved Philadelphia Flyers announcer Gene Hart, who had succumbed to colon cancer months earlier.
This was a period of fear and discouragement for Lauren. But there was something that motivated the singer to keep moving forward, a source of strength that she would cling to during the difficult months ahead: “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Through six months of chemotherapy, which included intense bouts of pain and fatigue, Lauren would walk out onto the ice at the Wells Fargo Center (then called the First Union Center) and belt out the National Anthem in front of thousands of adoring hockey fans.
“After the diagnosis and getting into treatment, everything pared down to that 90 seconds” on the ice, Lauren said. “I literally would work and wait all day. It took everything I had to get up there and do that minute-and-a-half. I felt so powerful in that 90 seconds. And it was a power that I did not have for the rest of the 24 hours.”
Like her father, Lauren was treated at Penn Medicine under the care of oncologist David Mintzer, MD.
“He was amazing,” she said of Dr. Mintzer and the entire team who helped her through half a year of chemotherapy and one surgery to remove lymph nodes from her neck. “They were just the greatest people on earth.”
Despite how depleting her treatments could be and how exhausted they’d leave her, Lauren said she was determined to keep singing for The Flyers.
“I think I missed one game,” she said. “It was the day that I had the surgery.”
“I just felt a sense of responsibility, to handle it a certain way,” she said of her resolve to keep attending hockey games. “I kept singing. I probably did it for myself, to feel that I was still normal, still alive, that I could still sing. But it really sustained me in a lot of ways.”
She was also sustained by the support of her community: The Flyers team and its fans, the patients and experts she met at Penn Medicine, and the scores of people who adored her father, Gene Hart. It was heartening to feel the collective love of a city, she said.
“That support from people I didn’t even know meant everything,” she said. “My father was loved by this city and by Flyers fans. And when he passed away, I felt like all that love and admiration came to me. I feel like, when he was gone, people gave me what they had given him.”
Lauren went into remission in 2000. Almost immediately, the singer became active in raising money and awareness for Non-Hodgkin lymphoma research. She’s worked with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society as well as the Abramson Cancer Center at Pennsylvania Hospital. She was also named “Humanitarian of the Year” by the Friends of the American Cancer Society.
“I chose to be active out in public because I knew what people did for me, I knew what nurses did for me, I knew the fan support—what it all meant and how it helped me get through that time. And I wanted to pay it forward,” she said.
During the 18 years since Lauren went into remission, there have been several breakthroughs in the treatment of non-Hodgkin lymphoma—and much of it was developed at Penn Medicine. Recently, the FDA approved CAR-T immunotherapy for non-Hodgkin lymphoma, an innovative form of therapy that trains the immune system to attack cancer cells.
“Immunotherapy is something that, at the time of my treatment, I would have never imagined,” Lauren said. “To have that kind of hope—and to have options, to know that you don’t have just one chance—I’m in awe. And I’m really proud of our city because of the work that we do here.”
According to recent statistics from the American Cancer Society, roughly 74,680 people will be diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma this year. To learn more about non-Hodgkin lymphoma: