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Hockey Fights Cancer provides hope for children living with cancer

by CancerCare Manitoba Foundation

Drea is a unique little girl. One moment this six-year-old is a "girly-girl" who likes to be sparkly and colourful, and the next she's play fighting with her older siblings, mimicking her favourite wrestling stars. And she is funny! Drea goes out of her way to make people laugh. Her personality lights up the room.

Last December, Drea's parents Mike and Mandy noticed physical changes in Drea. They were subtle at first; flu-like symptoms which came and went over a few weeks. Then they intensified. She started walking with her head tilted to one side. It got to the point she was too weak to walk on her own, and the slightest activity near her would make Drea nauseous and dizzy.

A CT scan in mid-January revealed the unthinkable. Drea had a brain tumour.

Her family's world changed instantly when they received this devastating news and confirmation of her diagnosis - Group-3 medulloblastoma. Drea needed major brain surgery and quickly.  

"How do you act normal in front of your child when you find this out? Every time we looked at her we burst into tears. We had many sleepless nights. It was like we were walking on glass, all the time," reflect Mike and Mandy.

The surgeons were able to get the entire tumour, but this wasn't the end of her journey. Drea had a long, grueling treatment plan ahead of her. 

In early March, Drea started her first of four high-dose chemotherapy treatments. The goal - destroy all the cancer cells in her body and replace them with her own healthy cells. It's still hard for her parents to comprehend, but just after Drea's sixth birthday, she underwent a stem cell transplant. 

Drea's CancerCare Manitoba oncologist hopes she will tolerate the maintenance chemotherapy she will be on for one to two years. The odds of this happening are precarious though. She's just so thin and weak and the drugs she's taking are tough on her body.  

While there has been progress to treat her cancer, the need for continued support of pediatric oncology research and clinical trials is great. 

Looking ahead is not easy for this extremely close-knit family of five. It's plagued with unknowns for Drea's future. 

"We can't imagine the cancer returning. And if it does, we need to know there will be more knowledge and answers to cure our beautiful daughter," say her parents.

Treatment plans for Drea and other children like her are based on research and clinical trials which are funded in large part by CancerCare Manitoba Foundation. Thanks to the amazing generosity and kindness of Hockey Fights Cancer supporters over the years, trials are available in Manitoba for children with cancer.

This November marks the Winnipeg Jets' eighth Hockey Fights Cancer campaign. Fans have generously raised $765,000 over the past seven years to help local kids, just like Drea, receive care right in Manitoba. Fans can join the fight at the Jets' Nov. 8, 10 and 12 home games, as well as at the Hockey Fights Cancer game on Nov. 23. Tickets can be found at WinnipegJets.com/TICKETS and for more information on fundraising opportunities, visit WinnipegJets.com/HFC.

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