We hear stories about it all the time, but we never think it will happen to us.
So when Hunter Miller told his mother Denise that he found a lump on his chest they didn’t think it was cancer. But the lump was 13 centimetres in diameter and Denise thought they should get it checked out and took Hunter to see their doctor. A few days later the Millers received a phone call and were told to take Hunter to BC Children’s Hospital in Vancouver.
On September 9, 2011, just a few days after his twelfth birthday, Hunter was diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma – a type of cancer that attacks the cells of the lymphatic system.
The Miller family, which also includes Hunter’s father Jeff and his younger brother Blake, spent the next eight months travelling from their home in Oliver to Vancouver every month for treatment. Hunter said other than the inconvenience of spending less time on the ice (he was just about to start his second year of Peewee hockey before he was diagnosed), the trips and treatment just became part of his routine.
Despite their fears, Denise said it was important to keep their lives, and Hunter’s, as normal as possible. “We didn’t treat him any differently,” she said. “He still had chores, he still got into trouble.” Her approach, and the treatment proved successful. On April 5, 2012 Hunter’s doctors told him he was in remission. “We were just thankful,” she said.
“With the amount of disease Hunter had we felt incredibly lucky that he responded so well to his chemotherapy.” Unfortunately Hunter’s grandfather wasn’t as lucky.
Two months after Hunter was declared cancer-free, his grandfather, who had been battling lung cancer, passed away. One night while checking his Facebook page, a post from the Canadian Cancer Society caught his eye. “It was about a road hockey tournament called Road Hockey to Conquer Cancer. It raises money for cancer research and I wanted to play for my grandpa. But when we looked into it we found out I was too young to play.”
Without hesitation Denise decided to form her own team and fundraise to support the cutting-edge research and treatment that helped save her son.
For her team, Denise looked to the other moms she knew from Hunter’s school (OES). She recruited nine local women, including Shelley Kirs, whose son Aidan survived a diagnosis of Hepatoblastoma as an infant. None of them had ever played hockey before but Theresa Garofalo said that didn’t deter her. “It didn’t take much convincing to join the team,” she said. “Hunter is a great kid and it’s a great cause.” Angie Boisclair joined soon after, shaving her head in support of the Miller’s cause.
Denise said in its first year the team, called GINA’S Rock – an acronym for Giving In Is Not Acceptable, competed in the tournament, raising over $14,000 for the BC Cancer Society. Hunter said he couldn’t be more proud. “It’s pretty cool watching my mom play road hockey, she works out before she comes to practice and they work hard.”
With just under a month to go until this year’s tournament, the now-seasoned “hockey moms” are ramping up their fundraising efforts in order to meet their $6,500 goal.
The team will hold a barbecue, car wash and silent auction on August 24 at the Canadian Tire parking lot from 10 am to 3 pm. Additionally, the team will continue a number of ongoing fundraising efforts including a bottle drive and a penny drive. Penny jars are currently set up at various locations around Oliver.
To find out more about the bottle drive or to donate, contact Gina’s Rock on Facebook.
The ladies will take to the courts at Concord Pacific Place in Vancouver along with hundreds of other players on September 14. The teams will come together for five road hockey games of four on four. Top fundraising teams qualify for the celebrity draft.
To donate to the team funds can be deposited in the Gina’s Rock account at CIBC Bank in Oliver (#00360-7866038 or go to http://2013.teamuptoconquercancer.ca/BCCF-Vancouver-2013 and type in Gina’s Rock.