By definition it is destructive, intrusive, and evil. It relentlessly targets the strong and the weak; the old and the young; the rich and the poor. It is heartless while tearing at the hearts of those it inflicts and their loved ones.
My cancer story began almost eight years ago. I had just entered fatherhood as my oldest son was born in December and I had celebrated my birthday on January 26, 2009. Then, on January 27, 2009, I received the phone call I never wanted and would never wish on anyone. My mom, 55 at the time, had Stage 4 HER-2 positive breast cancer; the most destructive and most deadly type of breast cancer. It’s not easy to lay down on your bed just one day after your 27th birthday and cry like a small child while your mother’s second grandson, just six weeks old lies in a crib next to you.
As a man, a protector, my mom’s oldest son…I felt helpless. This evil, cruel mistress of cancer had found a home where it did not belong and I was helpless to stop it. Go back twenty years prior and my grandmother had been diagnosed at age 55 and died at age 58 of the same disease. My mother assumed her fate would be the same. After months of chemo, radiation, and surgeries, my mom was declared cancer free. She had beaten this devil…briefly. You see, there’s a drug to fight HER-2 positive breast cancer called Herceptin, except,it can’t infiltrate the brain, but cancer can. My mom’s doctor had ordered one last scan to make sure she truly was cancer free. There it was, though, cancer on the brain. The fight we had assumed was over had only just begun.
Mom would go through full brain radiation; driving 150 miles round trip each and every day for over three weeks. You see, mom taught fifth grade and through all of the treatments she was still plugging away to make sure the students in her care received the education they deserved. Many would have taken an extended leave of absence, but not mom. No, she would work a half-day and go get radiation or chemo. She might take the next day off, or not. Then, she’d drag herself to school and teach with all her heart and strength. What her students didn’t see though, was mom collapse in a recliner and sleep for hours when she got home. But, she’d rise the next day, and do it again. Somebody had to teach these kids and love on them. It had to be my mom.
After finishing the full brain radiation, my family knew we had this thing beat. This cancer had to be gone, except, it wasn’t. There were still spots on her brain and we had one last chance to beat it for the third time. Mom would undergo a special type of radiation in which her head was stabilized in a brace and high-powered beams of radiation would target the specific spots on her brain that still showed cancer. This had to work; it was her final chance.
My mom is my hero. Sure, I have hockey players that I consider to be heroes and role models for my kids (Andrew Courtney, Rocco Carzo, and Bryce Aneloski to name a few). But when it comes down to it, as much as I love hockey, life is about much more.
I remember when John-Scott Dickson was announced as the Mavericks new head coach last summer he said, “You’re a person a lot longer than you’re a hockey player and I want my players to know that.”
That stuck with me because I knew exactly what he meant. Life is broken up into seasons, just like hockey, and as we move from one season to the next, we experience different stages and we change and morph to fit those seasons of life. Eight years later, I look back at January 27, 2009 as the beginning of another season in my life. One in which I became a father and a pillar on which my mom could lean on. Neither was easy, as life never is, but in the end as I exited that season I grew as a person and I’m better for it.
Each of us has a cancer story. It has impacted all of us in some way or another. Maybe you were lucky and your cancer story ends on a positive note, maybe it didn’t. But in the end, it’s about how will you remember that season of life. Write your own story. Keep fighting. Never give up. My mom didn’t quit fighting and eight years later she has four beautiful grandsons and yes, she still teaches fifth grade everyday.
While many teams around the NHL and other leagues are observing, or did observe, Hockey Fights Cancer month, the Mavericks contributors for The Sin Bin (Joe Rozycki, Ryan Gibson, and myself) are teaming up with Bryce Aneloski and Bob Klem of the Have A Skate with Bob (HASB) organization to fight pancreatic cancer. Bryce has pledged to donate $25 to HASB for every goal he scores in the month of November and we are matching that donation dollar for dollar. I would encourage you to consider picking your favorite player (or joining in with us) and make a donation to your favorite cancer charity for each goal they score this month. You can make a difference in someone else’s cancer story. We’ll keep fighting and we’ll never give up until cancer is something studied in history class.