CLEVELAND – The game of hockey is more than what happens on the ice. It is the community forged between the players and their families. It is the support for the players and everyone behind the scenes from the fans. Most especially, hockey comes with a sense of genuine caring and rallying around a person or cause in need.
That is one of the central messages behind the Cleveland Monsters’ The Purple Game. Not only do initiatives like this look to raise awareness, but they also raise money for organizations central to the fight behind the cause. For The Purple Game, it is all about cancer. Cancer isn’t easy to talk about, which those, like me, that have had cancer can appreciate. But, it is an important conversation to be had.
The Purple Game is about remembering those lost to cancer and honoring those survivors and the ones currently in the fight. When someone battles cancer, it impacts the entire community around that person. Today, we will be looking at two different stories of those around the Monsters that have been affected by cancer.
A Grandmother’s Fight
For Monsters defenseman Thomas Schemitsch, he found out about cancer first hand as a young child growing up in Thornhill, Ontario. His grandmother Yvette Rankin was diagnosed in 2010 with stage IV breast cancer. Before that, she was also diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. After his grandfather passed away, Rankin came to live with the Schemitsch’s, solidifying a bond he fondly talks about today.
For Rankin, moving in with the family gave her plenty of opportunities to stay active despite the challenges.
“It’s kind of funny. They gave her such a poor prognosis, but I think being in that environment (with four children) with so much going on- she would pick us up from the subway when we were coming home from school. That really helped.”
Rankin was, and still remains, a constant fixture in the family. As a younger woman, she served as a teacher in Hamilton, Ontario. Her dedication to the Schemitsch children never wavered, even when Thomas started playing hockey away from the Greater Toronto Area.
“Even when I went off to junior to play in Owen Sound, which is two and a half hours away, she would come to every game. She wouldn’t remember much but would still remember my number. She would be able to point me out on the ice, so that was nice. We would go out to dinner after the game. Everyone’s parents would come over and be like, ‘How’s grandma doing?’ and she’d be like, ‘Oh, great!’ She would wear my pin, so it was kind of cute.”
The closeness between Schemitsch and his grandmother didn’t start there, though. This is a tight-knit relationship even before Rankin began her courageous battles against breast cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. Growing up, the family would spend a month each summer in Vermont with Rankin and her husband William, which are Schemitsch’s maternal grandparents. There, he would golf with his grandfather and would spend lots of time playing cards with his grandmother.
When Rankin was diagnosed with cancer, Schemitsch was around 13 years old. Schemitsch shared that it was hard to understand the full extent of what is happening at that age. At stage IV, the cancer had already spread to her lungs and liver.
Hope, love and great care have led to Rankin still being with the family today. Unfortunately, the Alzheimer’s disease has continued to progress, but Rankin is a shining example that good outcomes are possible. Her courage shows that even with stage IV cancers, there is always hope.
As a teen, Schemitsch and his family learned about the unique challenges of Alzheimer’s disease and cancer. They found ways to keep Rankin active and forge many fond memories along the way. Cards were a constant in their lives. Her game of choice is cribbage. In fact, he credits her for why he is so good at cards now.
Rankin also enjoyed going to the movies, where popcorn and a Coke were essential must-haves. It became a bit of a pastime for Rankin and her daughter to go to the movies just to get out of the house. It was one of several ways the family found to retain some normalcy and joy in the difficult time.
To help balance the treatment and care of cancer and Alzheimer’s, Rankin had to go more often for her chemotherapy treatments since she was getting lower doses. This, understandably, was pretty tough on the family. He remembered having to grapple with the questions of “Why is my grandma’s hair falling out?” and “Why is she not up to what she usually is doing?”
Despite all the challenges, there is a bittersweet triumph at the end of this story. Rankin is still with the family, and he can still spend time with her on visits. Although, her battle with Alzheimer’s has begun to take its toll.
But for Schemitsch, The Purple Game has a whole new meaning.
“It’s great that these sort of events take place. Obviously, it is important to me. I think money raised in these events kind of leads to prevention, early detection, and even better treatment options. Those are the keys, and it is so important for that money to come in so those things can happen.”
The Battle Hits Home
For me, I hadn’t had much exposure to cancer until I received my own diagnosis of endometrial cancer on July 7, 2020. While it was an answer to months of declining health, it was just the start of a journey that leads us to today.
Endometrial cancer is seen as a disease that mainly hits post-menopausal women, not us ladies in our mid-30s. So, with that in mind, you can probably appreciate the difficulty I had even being diagnosed. After all, why perform a painful test for cancer when people in that age group don’t get it? Luckily, I found the right doctor who did the test and got me started on the care I desperately needed.
Within two weeks, I was placed with a fantastic care team at the Bing Cancer Center in Columbus, Ohio. There, they laid out all my treatment options and got me on the path to surgery. At the same time, a friend was undergoing her fight with breast cancer. It was a comfort to have her just a text away to help work through feelings and get a bit of a guide on everything I was about to face. She was a few months ahead in treatment, so she gave me excellent advice on advocating for myself, the questions to ask, and what everything meant.
She was the rock I didn’t know I needed at that time. Even though we are about 1,200 miles apart in distance, this experience bonded us. People around me in central Ohio did the same. Even with the distancing needed with the COVID-19 pandemic, I had many people find ways to help. Whether it was a meal delivery, a gift basket, or a video chat- the community really helped. Even the Monsters organization reached out to check in on me several times, which was so appreciated.
Fast forward to today. At the end of July, I had surgery and now am considered cancer-free, thanks to early detection and, in my biased view, the best care team around. Granted, there are still scars left to heal both physically and emotionally. Still, I am cancer-free, and for that, I am thankful.
Events like The Purple Game have taken on a whole new meaning. While I am working to become a patient advocate, I have made it my mission to educate as many people as possible about cancer. Early detection indeed saves lives. As Schemitsch said earlier, events like The Purple Game are so essential to help raise funds so future generations hopefully won’t have to go through what he and I have.
The Purple Game
The Purple Game is tonight, April 3, at 7:00 versus the Grand Rapids Griffins at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse.
Tonight, the familiar Monsters wine and black will make way for the color purple, which represents awareness for all cancers. The Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse curtain wall will be lit purple in support of the cause. The team encourages fans to show their support by wearing purple to the game or sharing a photo watching from home to the team’s social accounts.
Monsters’ players will sport specialty purple jerseys for the game that will be available to bid on through the DASH auction platform to benefit the Monsters Community Foundation. The jerseys will be shipped to the winners after sanitization. The auction will be open from 5:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. with more details on bidding available on clevelandmonsters.com and through the Monsters Mobile App.
Saturday’s game marks the third Purple Game in the team’s history, one of many cancer-related initiatives the team has taken on over its fourteen seasons. Past Purple Game jersey auctions have accounted for over $33,000 in funds raised for the Monsters Community Foundation, which donates to local charities benefiting Northeast Ohio families touched by cancer. Chief among them is the American Cancer Society, which for the third time will have its logo featured on the Monsters jerseys on the ice during the game.
Survivors will be highlighted and honored throughout the game on the Humongotron, including a special Monsters “honorary starting lineup” presentation before the game. The names of people battling cancer provided by Monster Hockey Club members will be written on “I Fight For” signs and lined throughout the player’s tunnel for recognition. Fans will also be able to recognize anyone special in their lives by filling out their own “I Fight For” signs that will be available to print through the Monsters social channels.
The Monsters Team Shop and the entire organization are proud to work together to benefit The Gathering Place in memory of Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse Senior Retail Operations Manager Sharon Caramell.
A portion of the proceeds from Purple merchandise will benefit The Gathering Place. This Cleveland-based organization provides support to individuals and families impacted by cancer. The Gathering Place offers free programs and services to help individuals and families cope with cancer’s impact on their lives. Learn more at www.touchedbycancer.org. The Monsters Team Shop will offer a Special Edition Purple Game Jersey Tee for $60 as the Item of the Game. Fans will also have the opportunity to purchase multiple items from the Monsters Purple Game Collection, including a Tee, Hoodie, Hat and more. Proceeds from this collection will benefit The Gathering Place.