Cancer’s scar across humanity is an ugly one, but when survivors and supporters unite together, the results can be amazing.
In their two-game series this weekend, the Kenai River Brown Bears are looking to dazzle by taking the fight to cancer with the “Pink in the Rink” cause, presented by Central Peninsula Hospital, which they will support by wearing special jerseys.
It’s a cause that Brown Bears rookie and Kenai Central product Ross Hanson can get behind.
“For me, I feel like it’s impacted a lot of people but some people who haven’t had a relative or friend that had it, they may not know the fight it takes,” Hanson said.
The fight against cancer is something that Hanson is familiar with as it has touched his family, and Hanson is one of many this weekend that will join in the cause to find a cure.
Hanson’s grandmother on his mother’s side, Kay Davis, was diagnosed in 2012 with a rare form of breast cancer called triple negative breast cancer, a form of the disease in which the three most common cell receptor types — estrogen, progesterone and the HER-2 gene — are not present in the tumor. It results in many common treatments being ineffective. The National Breast Cancer Foundation lists triple negative cancer occurring in 10 to 20 percent of patients, noting that it is a more aggressive and difficult form to treat and it is more likely to spread and recur.
Davis is a Kansas City, Missouri, resident, and Hanson said during his days playing junior hockey out of state, his grandma would make the drive up to Blaine, Minnesota, to watch her grandson compete.
Before his career took him out of state, though, Hanson was a Kenai Central prodigy. As a high school freshman in 2012, Hanson said the idea of being knocked out of action didn’t seem realistic, as invincibility takes its hold on most young athletes, but Hanson said his grandmother’s battle to rid herself of the disease was an eye-opening experience that showed him the strength and courage it takes to keep pushing.
“I remember seeing my grandma going through chemotherapy, and you look at her and you think, wow, it really takes a toll on the body,” Hanson said. “People with cancer, you get to talking with them, and they still have hope.”
Davis was able to defy the odds and Hanson said his grandmother is believed to be free of cancer.
“Last year was the fifth year since (Davis was diagnosed), and she was telling me if no sign has come back, she’s basically rid of it,” Hanson said. “It’s not coming back.”
The 2017 Kenai Central High School graduate and son of Chris and Michael Hanson of Kenai had a battle of his own to endure this season on the ice after he suffered a broken wrist that sidelined him for over two months.
While recovering from a broken bone is nothing compared to the fight it takes to beat cancer, Hanson’s journey to return to the ice received extra motivation in knowing that Davis and other cancer victims have battled and won against all odds.
Hanson will be back this weekend after the forward was renamed to the active roster following his clearance to return, and it coincides perfectly with Pink in the Rink weekend at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex.
When the Brown Bears drop the puck Friday night against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (Pennsylvania) Knights, the 19-year-old said he expects a large turnout of enthusiastic fans and supporters.
“I think it’s going to be really cool, really exciting,” he said. “The fans love to see the Bears.”
Kenai River Brown Bears head coach Josh Petrich also has family that has dealt with cancer. His wife’s family and few great aunts and uncles on his side have had the diagnosis, and Petrich said it gives him a greater appreciation for the kind of weekends that put community support center stage.
“With these special jerseys we’re wearing, it’s a fun thing because our other specials jersey this year honored our military,” Petrich said. “These two causes are near and dear to my heart, and about every person on the peninsula is connected closely with those that are affected.”
Hanson got an early start with the Bears, signing a tender with the team in November 2014 when he was a high school sophomore. Hanson played his freshman year with Kenai Central, then traveled down south to play two seasons for the Pikes Peak (Colorado) Miners 16U National AAA squad and one season with the Colorado Thunderbirds.
Hanson said after breaking his right wrist, his shooting hand, in a contest against the Fairbanks Ice Dogs on Dec. 2, he was not able to skate for over a month. He did not join the Bears on road trips, and only got out for a noncontact practice with his teammates in the week leading up to the Bears’ two-game home series against the Coulee Region (Wisconsin) Chill starting Jan. 12.
“I had a cast on, but I put on gear and went skating with the team,” he explained. “I got cleared the last week they were on the road.”
Before his season exit, Hanson had racked up five points (three goals, two assists) in 16 games, but now, with a metal plate surgically placed in his shooting hand, Hanson said he is hoping to come out strong.
“I do everything with my right hand,” he said. “It might be hard to adjust.
“Coach hasn’t told me I’m playing, but we’ll see how practice goes.”
Petrich said Hanson has brought a lot of speed to the team in his first year of action, but the Bears will be patient in evaluating Hanson’s first few games back.
“The boys enjoy having him around,” Petrich said. “He brings a body that can really get up and down the ice, cause pressure and chaos on opposing team’s centers and gives us scoring chances.”
As far as making his return on Pink in the Rink weekend, Hanson said he knows of at least one person he’ll be thinking of.
“It gives me inspiration knowing that if she can go through that while still being hopeful and still being happy then I can keep striving and keep gaining motivation,” he said.