Skip to main content
Hockey Fights Cancer

Devan Dubnyk's mask salutes mom's cancer battle

Pink ribbon on back of Wild goalie's helmet is reminder that mother beat disease

by Jessi Pierce / NHL.com Correspondent

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Barb Dubnyk called her husband, Barry, from the doctor's office. She told him a lump had been found in her breast during a routine checkup and he would have to pick up 15-year-old Devan from hockey practice.

Further scans done that day would show the prognosis: At 45 years old, she had breast cancer.

That was June 2001. By the following April, the cancer was gone; 15 years later, Barb and the entire Dubnyk family continue to celebrate the fact that she is cancer-free.

"We are so fortunate to still have her here today," Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk said of his mom. "With the strength she taught me through that, that's certainly stuck with me today."

Barb was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of breast cancer that was all but guaranteed to return even after having a lumpectomy. It wasn't until a few days before her surgery that Barry and Barb disclosed the information to their three children, Devan, 17-year-old Dave and 21-year-old Christianne.

"I was the youngest kid, so everybody was trying to protect me from it," Dubnyk said. "I was the last one to figure it out. For me, when I first heard, I was obviously pretty naïve but I didn't know that people survived cancer. When I was told I thought that meant that she was going to die, so I took it pretty hard for a couple of days.

"Once [my parents] told me that people survived cancer and that she was going to go through treatment, I just switched to knowing that she was going to survive it."

The surgery turned out to be a success. On Sept. 4, 2001, Barb began chemotherapy and radiation to prevent the cancer's return.

The mother of three wanted to keep her kids from seeing her be anything less than their normal mom. When the chemo and radiation had her feeling ill, she would go to the spare bedroom at the other end of the house to recover.

"It was awful. I wanted to quit," she said.

Dinner was still cooked most nights, and with a nice warm hat to cover her balding head, Barb still made it to the arena to cheer on Devan and Dave at their hockey games.

"The kids were busy with their own lives, and I didn't want them to have to go through worrying about me," Barb said. "It wouldn't help me and it wouldn't help them either."

Dubnyk said even while he was busy being a teenager, he noticed "all that mattered to her was being mom."

Video: Dubnyk Family Sees Happy EndingVideo courtesy of Wild TV

"Obviously there were times when she couldn't do much else but lie on the couch after her treatments," he said. "But then she was right back up trying to make meals and go about daily life. She knew if we saw that, then we would feel OK about."

In his third season with the Wild and his 10th in the NHL, Dubnyk has a constant reminder of the battle his mom went through and the strength she showed in victory. A single pink breast cancer ribbon with the word "Mom" wrapped around it is included on the back of his goalie mask. Though its placement is on the back of his helmet, his mom's battle against cancer is never on the back of his mind.

"It's just a reminder [and] a tribute to her and support for everybody that has to go through it," Dubnyk said. "Again, to me, the strength that she taught me through that I can kind of take it with me."

The Wild host their annual Hockey Fights Cancer Awareness Night on Tuesday against the Calgary Flames at Xcel Energy Center.

"That's always a special game," Dubnyk said. "I shouldn't say I try harder to win, because I try hard every night, but it's definitely one that I like to win for her."

Barb has already achieved the win of a lifetime.

"I have done so many things I never thought I'd be able to do, like see my son play in the NHL," Barb said. "I have four beautiful grandchildren. … Life is just so good."

View More