By Lori Gilbert
The Stockton Record
STOCKTON, Calif. – Not the seven power plays in the third period, nor the 6-on-4, then 6-on-3 advantages of the Long Beach Ice Dogs in the waning seconds were going to produce a game-tying score on Stockton goalie Devan Dubnyk.
He had too much at stake.
On a night the Stockton Thunder painted its ice pink to honor breast cancer awareness, Dubnyk dedicated himself to his own breast cancer survivor.
“This one was for her,” he said of his mom, Barb, after beating Long Beach 3-2 on Friday at Stockton Arena.
Earlier in the day, during a phone call from Calgary, Alberta, Barb Dubnyk told her youngest child that she had received a clean bill of health, marking five years of being cancer free since undergoing surgery and treatment for breast cancer.
It made playing on that pink ice much more significant for Dubnyk than for his teammates.
Five years ago, as a 15-year-old getting ready to begin high school, Dubnyk noticed the cotton-wad bandages on his mom’s arm after a series of blood tests and badgered her for the reason.
She finally told him, uttering the dreaded word that seems to momentarily stop the heart.
It took a good 10 minutes for the words “cancer,” “breast” and “Mom” to fully register with Dubnyk.”It was the worst I ever felt in my life,” Dubnyk said. “I didn’t know a lot about cancer. I believed people with cancer died.”
He didn’t know that 96 percent of those diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer survive at least five years, that while it’s the second-leading cause of cancer deaths for women, if caught early, it doesn’t have to be fatal.
“All I was thinking was ‘I’m going to lose my mom,’ ” Dubnyk said.
Once he found out the facts and saw how his mom and dad, Barry, were prepared to confront the disease, relief swept over him.
“She’s got the most positive attitude of anyone I know,” he said.
If women could survive breast cancer, he knew, Barb Dubnyk would.
She underwent a lumpectomy within weeks of the diagnosis and began chemotherapy a month later. Her blond hair fell out. She would spend the first two days after her chemotherapy treatments on the couch so sick she could do nothing.
“I’ll never forget how amazing she was when she was going through that process,” Dubnyk said. “Anyone who’s been through it knows it’s almost unbearable how sick they feel. She wouldn’t let herself be sick in front of us. Two days, max, she’d be on the couch, then she’d be up fixing dinner and taking care of the house. She didn’t want us taking care of her. She wanted to take care of us.”
It’s what she’d always done. And what she continues to do.
“I feel like if I need a positive word or two, or some optimism, I give her a call,” Dubnyk said.
Actually, the 20-year-old calls home a couple times a day.
“She’s always been the one who takes care of me,” Dubnyk said.
The cancer scare just made him appreciate her more.
“It brought us way closer,” he said of his entire family. “It does that. It gives you much more appreciation of health and family, the things you sometimes take for granted. When you come that close to losing one of the most important people in your life, you appreciate every minute with them.”
It puts playing a hockey game in perspective.
On Friday, however, it gave Dubnyk added incentive as he played his hockey game.
His mom loves following his games so much, she and her husband considered not using their tickets to James Blunt’s concert at Calgary’s Saddledome in order to listen to the Thunder’s internet broadcast.
Dubnyk told them to attend the concert, that there’d be a lot more hockey games for them to listen to.
It was a statement made by someone who then went out and played a game on pink ice, knowing that colorful surface represented hope and life, and was a tribute to cancer survivors sitting in the stands.
And at least to him, one sitting in Calgary.