“Welcome to the American Airlines Center” That is what I read as my backside laid at center ice and I stared at the arena ceiling, with thousands of people laughing at me and my Ice Girl crush in the corner of my eye looking disappointed as she said “Oh, Matt!” I had made a pretty poor attempt at musical chairs during an intermission of a preseason game in 2010. What no one else realized is that I was having trouble even standing and walking at that point. That moment was my rock bottom. I could no longer deny that there was something seriously wrong with me. I was weak and as I got up from the ice I noticed that my skin was the same color as the ice. I finally stopped making excuses and went to the doctor. The next day the doctor sent me to the emergency room and a few days following that, I was diagnosed with stage three colon cancer. As we began “Hockey Fights Cancer” month my battle had already started.
I could tell my oncologist was nervous when he sat us down to tell us the news and a little shocked at my reaction. I found it a relief that they knew what the problem was. I knew it was going to be a long and difficult road but I relied on a philosophy I learned from my grandfather. There is a path laid before you and you must take that path. You can’t take it kicking, screaming, whining, and complaining or you can lift your head up and take it like a man. No one will fault you either way, but really how do you want to be remembered? That attitude my faith, family, and friends helped more than you can imagine. This is the story of my Stars family and how they supported me during this most trying time.
I was too weak and my blood volume was too low for surgery. To build me up I was given one liter of an iron solution every day for two weeks. I got the nickname of Ironman around the clinic. The time came for surgery and my surgeon wanted to have it as soon as I could. He scheduled me for October 14, 2010. I saw that it was the day of the Stars home opener and the return of Mike Modano as a Redwing. I told my doctor if he truly wanted me to be in good spirits for the surgery he would postpone the surgery and allow me to make that game. He agreed and so I made plans to go to what I thought could be my last game.
The Stars started their season on the road which meant my first opportunity to speak to members of my Stars family in person would be at a watching party. I learned that if I told my friends and family in person and I stayed calm that it went over much better. I did that for all but one group of friends that night. Word spread around the restaurant and had reached the Ice Girls. I knew we got a long but I didn’t realized how close I was to that special group of ladies until that night. I’m still sorry for making it so difficult for their director to keep a smile on their face all night. That night, the encouragement, and support they have given me ever since is why I will always look out for them.
It was time for the opener and the Stars Fanatics had a pregame tailgate party. It was there that I received the greatest hockey gift ever. The group had gone to practices and had the Stars team autograph an inflatable butt cushion. I deeply cherish that gift even today. That game was one of the best and most memorable games I’ve been too in my 18 plus years as a season ticket holder.
At first it was thought that I would only need to have surgery to have a golf ball sized tumor removed. After opening me up they realized it was a puck sized tumor, I lost a third of my colon and I would need chemotherapy. I received several visits from coworkers, friends, and family including my Stars family, but I always seemed to get an encouraging message just at the right time from. The night before having my medical port put in I was feeling really down and couldn’t sleep. I looked at my phone and I had a Facebook message from Celena Rae who had just learned of my struggles. It was a long, touching letter that cheered me up to the point I could sleep. The same thing happened the night before I was to start chemotherapy but this time it was from my favorite Ice Girl who also had just found out. She told me the encouraging story of her friend who had gone through the same thing. It seemed as if I was receiving the encouragement I needed just when I needed it. It came from many sources but in this case from my Stars family.
The support I received on game days was overwhelming. It started with my favorite bartender and my pregame restaurant that wouldn’t serve me a beer without a doctor’s note. Then there was the pregame hugs and kind words I was given when making my rounds. A friend would also sneak homemade cookies into the arena for me. However, the greatest lasting encouragement came from another source.
Part of my chemotherapy required me taking a pump home or my “poison to go box” as I called it. There would be nights were I would have to carry this to the games and watching parties with me. To be safe I would need to wear a surgical mask when in public to protect my weak immune system. Walking through a dollar store looking for masks I noticed a little girl with a cast that was signed by her friends. I also noticed a different kind of mask on the shelf. I bought a Jason style goalie mask and decided I would rather be known as the crazy guy at games than the sick one. I brought a marker so that my friends could sign it and I could hang it up on the wall for the times I was sick, home alone, and feeling down. The masks caught on and before too long I had a wall full of masks some of which were decorated for me. It was such a touching gesture.
I am now three years cancer free and couldn’t be more appreciative of the Stars organization and what they have meant to me. From my fellow fans, my Ice Girl sisters, players, and those in the front office I consider them all my family. When you see me dress up, greet and entertain fans it is just my way of giving back to an organization that has done so much.
I love you all! Go Stars!!!