In My Words: The Mom Jackpot

By Jon Puskar

You all know how Mother’s Day goes, right?  Your social media feeds are filled with various heartfelt messages about the mothers of people you went to college with, or worked with, or that guy who sat next to you in high school who you never spoke to but somehow you’re friends on Facebook? You know what I’m saying…one…after another….after another…about how their Mom is THE BEST and they are SO LUCKY, right? But let me just put those all to rest now, because without a doubt, I hit the ‘Mom’ jackpot with my Mom Janis.

Growing up in Canton, Michigan, there was always family around.  My Mom’s side of the family lived about half an hour from us, so whether it was hunting and fishing with my grandpa and uncle, or playing hockey out in the driveway with my cousin, family was always around. But make no mistake, my Mom was the glue that held the family together – and regardless of what she was dealing with in her own life, she always excelled in that role. And she dealt with a lot.  Aside from the challenges of raising two very active kids in my sister Jordan and me, being a dedicated wife to my Dad, and her own career as a fitness instructor, Mom was diagnosed with a pretty serious case of breast cancer when I was about three years old.

Obviously because I was so young, I don’t remember everything about when she was sick but there are some things that stick out from that time, as well as lessons I’ve learned from her as I grew up and realized the extent of the battle she faced.

It became ‘real’ to me when my Mom started to get chemotherapy and had to get her head shaved.  So when she was bald, that’s when it kind of hit me, like OK, something is going on here.  It was around Halloween when my Mom first shaved her head, so she could very easily have just thrown on a wig and covered up the fact that she didn’t have any hair.  Instead, she decided to celebrate her newly shaved head and dressed up as ‘Uncle Fester’ from the Addams Family – that’s just the type of person she is.

My Mom was the one fighting cancer, but, like I said, she never missed a beat when it came to her ‘Mom’ or ‘wife’ duties – always making sure she was at every hockey game, tournament, event – even so far as driving me straight to a tournament fresh off a chemotherapy session.  To this day, I still don’t know how she did it, but that’s just how she is.

With my grandparents and aunts and uncles living so close to us, everyone in the family, and many friends, helped us out while my Mom was sick.  I would constantly go over to play at one of my friend’s house – his Mom was studying to be a psychiatrist. So I would go from playing street hockey outside with him and then his Mom would call us inside, and she would literally just sit and talk with us.  Even at such a young age, just talking to someone helped.  And my Mom knew that’s what I needed, was to talk to someone else about it, because it was hard for me to understand what was going on when she told me.

Hockey, even at that young age, was always my constant though.  When I was at practice, or a game or tournament, and I saw or heard my Mom cheering from the stands, to me, it meant everything was normal. There was nothing wrong with her.  I didn’t have to worry about anything.  She was in the crowd screaming away and I was on the ice having fun.

As of today, I’m thrilled to say that my Mom is a 24 year cancer survivor. She’s also an all around warrior, and the best mother out there.  Her battle with cancer taught me that nothing is impossible.  We found out years later that her cancer diagnosis was much more serious than what we initially knew.  Despite that, she fought through it, and not only fought through it, but she crushed cancer.  She showed me that no matter what kind of day you’re having or how things are going, there’s always a bright side, and there’s always hope.  I truly believe that her positive attitude was a huge part of her survival.

‘Pink in the Rink’ is always my favorite night or weekend every hockey season.  It’s an amazing opportunity to celebrate survivors like my Mom, and to honor those who lost their battle with the disease. I try to do a little something extra every season to make the night extra special.  This year I spray painted both of my sticks completely pink.  I put a request online that if you had lost anyone to cancer or wanted to honor a survivor, to send their initials or names to me.  I didn’t think that so many people would reach out to me, but I ended up having about sixty names on my stick.  Knowing that something so simple as throwing initials on my stick could help honor someone, I’m thrilled that I’m in a position to do so.

A lot of people think hockey players are tough, but that’s just part of our game.  True toughness is day to day battles, struggles and adversity that people deal with every day.  My Mom was fighting for her life, but really she was fighting for her husband, her kids, and all of her family, and that, to me, is true toughness.

So, thanks Mom, for letting me hit the Mom Jackpot & Happy Mother’s Day!