Hockey, Cancer and the Bigger Picture

There are moments in life where you remember exactly what you were wearing, what you were doing, where you were standing when something happened.

I remember everything about the moment I found out my dad had cancer.

The first flare up began when I was a freshman in high school. I remember wearing my gym clothes, standing on the curb waiting for my dad to pick me up from school. He never came.

Now my parents have been divorced since I was three, so I’ve always split time on a schedule between two houses. The night before, I was with my mom. The night before, my dad stopped breathing and was rushed to the hospital for an emergency tracheotomy.

This was the first time that I really felt like I had brushed paths with death. Sure I had family members that had died when I was younger, almost too young to remember, but this was different. This was being older and walking into a hospital room to face the mortality of a man who had been by my side since birth. This was understanding that 12 minutes had separated me from losing my father.

My dad has always taught me one thing: “the only person who decides your strength is you.”

He was okay, and back home in four days for my cousin’s wedding. But this changed things. We all knew it, though no one wanted to say it.

Time had once seemed unlimited and family guaranteed. Now, nothing was guaranteed and we were running on borrowed time. Another lesson from my dad: “this time may be borrowed and I might only have a little left, but it’s my time to spend.”

At this point, I wasn’t really into sports. I went to a math and science academy based school and it seemed almost planned out for me to be an environmental engineer. But remember how I said that time felt limited? Well, as I entered my senior year of high school time ran out.

Stage IV. In-operable. Thoracic cancer.

Stage IV is the highest stage of cancer growth, and can also be called metastatic cancer or advanced cancer. Even after years of medical classes I still don’t understand all the medical diagnoses. But for reference, according to the Cancer Treatment Centers of America: “The five-year survival rate for those diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer is less than 10 percent.”

It wasn’t good. Cancer never really can be.

Since his cancer has spread to be inoperable, the only options were radiation and chemotherapy. For lack of better words, life sucked. My dad had always been a strong and independent person. He thrived on being able to do things for himself, but life was about to change.

Now I grew the closest to my father my senior year of high school, during his battle, but I also found my love for hockey again. Hockey very much became my escape. 60 minutes to focus on something other than cancer and the future.

My favorite memory I’ll ever have regarding hockey came that winter during the 2014 Sochi Olympics. My father was always by the book. Get up, go to school, no excuses, I’m not calling you out. That kinda stuff.

But living on borrowed time changes things, and he saw an opportunity to bond. He called me out of school one day just to watch hockey. I thought he was joking when he asked me if I’d like to do it. He wasn’t, and we woke up starting at 3 am to watch Olympic hockey.  I’ve never had a bonding experience like it. My dad saw something that meant a lot to me and used some of his time to experience it with me.

So the point of this article isn’t to tell you about my father, though that certainly helps my point. The reason I wanted to sit down and write this article is to talk about Hockey Fights Cancer for a moment.

For the first time in four years, I am missing the Hockey Fights Cancer game held by the Arizona Coyotes. I honestly don’t have words for how upset I am about it. Over the past four years, where hockey has quite literally become my job, Hockey Fights Cancer has come to mean a lot more to me than one night a season.

The first hockey game I ever went to was with my father. The second was the Hockey Fights Cancer Game in 2014 against the New York Islanders. If you’ve never watched the video documentary on Travis Hamonic “In the Name of the Father” go watch it really fast.

 

http://www.espn.com/video/clip?id=11915798

 

Now every year you fill out a sign for the Hockey Fights Cancer game stating who or what you fought for. A picture of mine is inserted below.

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I had my sign down at warm-ups and Hamonic skated over, tapped the glass and just looked at me. This was the first time I had ever been down to warm-ups in my life so I was wide-eyed as could be. But then he looked down, at my sign, and back at me before nodding. I could tell by the look in his eyes, he got it. What it was like to lose or almost lose a parent. Hamonic will have a special place in my heart for the rest of my life.

Now every year I’ve gone to the game and filled out the sign. They’ve changed over the years because my view on life has changed.

Screen Shot 2017-11-03 at 10.09.07 PM.png

Screen Shot 2017-11-03 at 10.09.36 PM.png

In the end, hockey is just a game. But it’s a game that means a lot to me and has done a lot for me. It’s given me a way to bond with my father, a way to escape, and for one night a season Hockey Fights Cancer gives me a chance to tie together two very important things in my life.  There’s a whole world outside of hockey, but Hockey Fights Cancer allows you to make a difference.

Since I am missing this year’s game I am donating $100 dollars to the Hockey Fights Cancer donation page, and I have ongoing season bets to donate there too. If you’re inspired to donate let me know, so I can personally thank you.

In September 2015 my father had his vocal chords removed due to a growth.  We still watch and talk hockey. Cancer has just changed how we do it. His battle isn’t over and neither is the world’s battle against cancer. You never know when borrowed time might run out for good. Obviously, my story isn’t unique if you have your own story about how hockey and cancer have impacted your life let me know. Every story matters.

All I can do is leave you with this message from my father: “All you can do is fight. The world doesn’t have time for people who just stand there, so take time to make a difference.”

 

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