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Kurvers' cancer fight is about to hit the ground running

Wild's Acting GM will run 10K for Breath of Hope Foundation next week

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe /

In the corner of Tom Kurvers' office at Wild team headquarters sits a large leather chair. Over the back is a knit blanket, a spot that looks like the perfect place to curl up for an afternoon nap.

"You wanna sit in the comfy chair?" Kurvers asks a reporter as he eases into the office chair behind his desk. 

Kurvers is able to smile about it now, but that chair in the corner of his office has been a savior. When you're in the fight of your life -- and for your life -- against Stage 3 lung cancer, sometimes you have to sit back, relax and close your eyes. 

Some days, he simply has no choice. There are times where the disease leaves him without the energy to even sit up in a chair.

Kurvers has received bits of good news since he was diagnosed with cancer in January. In this fight, you never want tumors to get bigger. Shrinking, or at the very least, staying the same, is music to his ears. 

So far, he's received mostly positive news. 

"We've had two eight-week intervals. The first time, in early April, the results were excellent," Kurvers said. "The tumor had shrunk, there were four things they were worried about, they were real positive about three of them and the fourth one was better. I went back eight weeks later and the results weren't as strongly positive, they were positive and very slightly positive. 

"But in this game, a win is a win and a tie is a win."

Kurvers said the outpouring of support he's received from people all over the hockey world has been stunning. In addition to guys he played professionally with, friends he's run into through the years in the scouting world as well as complete strangers, Kurvers has received well-wishes from some of the most random places.

On his desk sits a note from hockey operations administrator Cindy Sweiger, a missed call from an old teammate, but not one that he played in the NHL with, or even at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

"This guy," Kurvers said, grabbing the Post-It, "was the goalie on my first squirt team. I haven't talked to him since, probably high school. But that's what has happened. Guys from my squirt team, my high school team, my college team, guys I played on different pro teams to guys I've worked with on different NHL teams. 

"It's consistent, and they care. The steady contact from people ... it's been strength for me."

Perhaps the most frustrating part of Kurvers' cancer battle is that the 56-year-old former pro athlete remains in terrific shape. He maintained a quality diet in his post-playing career and has never been a smoker, which made the diagnosis of lung cancer even more shocking.

"It's a terrible stigma that is attached to lung cancer," Kurvers said. "Lung cancer kills more people than breast, colon and prostate cancers combined. It has a stigma of being a smoker's cancer, but 50 percent of the people who are diagnosed are not smokers."

His fitness will be put to the test next week when Kurvers runs a 10K in the A Breath of Hope Lung Run/Walk Twin Cities on Aug. 10 at Lake Harriet in Minneapolis.

But as has been the case since his diagnosis nearly eight months ago, Kurvers won't be doing it alone. "Team Kurvers," consisting of his wife, Heather, and his children, daughters Madison and Rose and sons, Weston and Roman, are all participating in the event. 

A Breath of Hope Lung Foundation's mission is to raise lung cancer awareness, provide patient and family support and fund innovative lung cancer research.

The motivation for participating in the 10K came in the form of an e-mail from Columbus Blue Jackets Assistant General Manager Bill Zito, who rode 100 miles by bicycle in the the Pelotonia bike ride over the weekend in honor of his wife, Julie, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in May. 

Zito raised more than $130,000 in donations for his ride, and since 2008, the Pelotonia has raised nearly $200 million for cancer research.

Tweet from @bzitojr: We made it! Love to Julie and Nonni!

"I had been in contact with a friend of my daughter who works at the Breath of Hope Foundation," Kurvers said. "They had a 10K on the calendar, and I didn't really consider running in it, but I was going to speak at it. 

"But when I saw Billy was going to ride 100 miles, I said, 'Hell, I can run a 10K.'"

In that instant, Kurvers decided he would do both; Breath of Hope had asked him to speak, and he agreed, but he also wanted to participate in the run.

Kurvers is raising money for the run (you can donate by clicking on this link) but is also using the date as a distraction for the very serious days that will follow.

He will go in for his next set of scans just two days after the run and he'll know the results of those scans 48 hours later.

"It's a lot easier to look forward to a run than it is to look forward to your next set of scans," Kurvers said. "The scans aren't the big deal, but when you go in for the results, that's kind of a tough day."

When the results of those scans come back, Kurvers is hoping for a big win. 

"If it's a significant improvement, then we can talk to the surgeon about going in and getting the tumor out," Kurvers said. "Then it would be radiation for the lymph nodes in my sternum. If they feel confident that they can get the cancer out of my lungs, then they'll radiate the lymph nodes. That's the game plan."

Kurvers said he tries not to look that far ahead. If living with cancer has taught him one thing, it's to appreciate the day-to-day aspect of life. 

Gathering his family together on Aug. 10 is one of those times he'll relish.

"It's not often any more that we can all get together for a day, not as often as I'd like it to," Kurvers said. "This is four or five hours together that we can always remember."

To make a donation to Team Kurvers, check out his page on the Breath of Hope Foundation's website.

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