Tonight, the Florida Panthers will host Hockey Fights Cancer Night when they take on the New York Islanders at BB&T Center. The cause hits home for Panthers defenseman, Erik Gudbranson. Gudbranson’s little brother Dennis, is a cancer survivor.
When Dennis was five-years-old, he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML). AML is when white blood cells, produced in bone marrow, are abnormal and do not become healthy cells. The abnormal cells crowd normal cells in the body, making it difficult for fighting infections. Gudbranson was 11 at the time of Dennis’s diagnosis.
During this time, Gudbranson matured quicker than his peers. While his parents were at the hospital looking after Dennis, Gudbranson stayed behind at times and looked after his younger siblings.
“The whole idea was to make sure that Dennis knew everything was okay at home,” said Gudbranson. “All he had to worry about was getting better.”
Dennis’s cancer went into remission for a few months, but returned. Doctors informed the Gudbransons that Dennis needed a bone marrow transplant.
The Gudbransons had their bone marrows tested to see whether they were compatible with Dennis. Sadly, no one was a match. The family waited patiently for a donor through the International Bone Marrow Registry.
Good things come to those who wait, and for the Gudbransons, the biggest miracle occurred. A donor from Newfoundland, Canada, tested as a perfect match for Dennis.
“It’s almost unheard of to have that perfect match. We were ecstatic. It was a very, very exciting day,” said Gudbranson.
For cancer patients, the five-year mark is one of the biggest milestones. The five-year mark means that the patient has shown no signs or symptoms of cancer after treatments. When Dennis reached his five year mark, the family was thrilled.
“We knew it wasn’t coming back,” he said. “He was allowed to move on and his cancer was something to be left in the past. My family met up with his bone marrow donor and had a party for him.”
Dennis, now 16, has been cancer free for nine years. Dennis’s battle with cancer has brought the Gudbransons closer. After everything Dennis has gone through, Gudbranson admires his little brother for his strength, courage and positivity.
“He’s tough as nails. Not many people go through something like that and to do it at such a young age and be able to conquer it the way he did is truly amazing,” said Gudbranson.
Hockey Fights Cancer and Movember, a foundation raising awareness for men’s health, both hold significance to Gudbranson. Gudbranson’s grandfather also had cancer. His grandfather was diagnosed with stage IV lymphoma and unfortunately lost his battle with the disease.
“It’s a scary disease and unfortunately, it’s part of our culture. It’s not unheard of to know someone who had cancer,” said Gudbranson.
Gudbranson decided to step away from his razor for the month in support of Movember. By growing out a moustache or donating to the Movember Foundation, funds and awareness for prostate and testicular cancer and mental health issues, helps researchers one step closer to finding a cure. Gudbranson encourages Panthers fans to donate and for males to, “bring out your inner gentleman” and grow a moustache.
The Panthers defenseman witnessed the brutality of cancer and strongly encourages fans to donate and raise awareness to help find a cure.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about finding a cure. I don’t think anybody should be put through a situation like that,” Gudbranson said. “It affects so many people and it’s our responsibility to take part in finding it.”
Founded by the National Hockey League, Hockey Fights Cancer raises money and awareness to help find a cure for the disease. The NHL has raised over $14 million to national and local charities and hospitals since its beginning in 1998.