Friday afternoon, we received the following email in our inbox. It was from Rich E., who wrote about a recent experience his son shared with Alex Ovechkin.
I’ve been a fan of the Caps for over 30 years, had a quarter season plan as a teenager with my best friend, remember well the marathon game against the Islanders, and have followed the RMNB site for years. I’ve never been one to post anything, heck until October of this year I barely posted on Facebook, despite being “on” Facebook for years. All that changed very recently when my son Luke was diagnosed with DIPG on September 29, 2017. It’s a rare cancer that strikes only about 300 children in the US each year. We started a Facebook page to follow his journey – LukesSquad.
Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG) forms a tumor on the brainstem, which due to the location and the nature of the tumor, makes it inoperable and there is no cure today. There are clinical trials ongoing here in DC (at Children’s Hospital & NIH), as well as other places all over the country and the world. However, we were told most children only survive nine to 24 months after diagnosed. Our family has taken the approach that it was a rare thing for Luke to have this happen and he’ll be the rare kid to beat it. To steal a sports phrase, Why not Luke? Why not now?
A friend of our family happens to have a close relationship with Alex Ovechkin, which is why I’m writing to you today.
Truth be told, I’m writing for two reasons:
Cancer is the number one killer of children in the US, but only 4% of funding tied to cancer research is focused on pediatric cancer, which I had no idea about until Luke began his battle. I find that fact both shocking and reprehensible as a country. Our children are our future and they deserve better.
Ovi met Luke a few weeks ago, right before the Capitals trip to Boston on November 3. My son doesn’t really do well when there are a lot of people around. The steroids he’s on helps manage the tumor, but also makes him easily agitated (thankfully we’ve been able to reduce his dosage over the past few weeks and he is much more himself). He’s undergoing radiation treatment at Sibley Memorial Hospital (30 rounds total) and our friend was able to arrange for Luke to meet Ovi over at Kettler Iceplex on what we call Freedom Friday (as Luke gets his port accessed on Monday and de-accessed on Fridays, giving him the freedom to take showers, do normal kid stuff, and not have tubes attached to his chest through his port).
I was originally under the impression that we would briefly meet Ovi and he’d quickly say hi after practice, which in itself would have been fantastic. However what Ovi did was even more special in my mind. You see he didn’t have practice, he came down on his own time and fit Luke into his day, even though he had a flight to catch to Boston.
We met our friend by the souvenir shop, who had been in contact with Ovi via cell for several days before our meeting when the team was on the West coast trip. Ovi had asked about Luke several times and confirmed we’d be able to make it over to Arlington after his radiation treatment.
Afterwards we walked down the hallway where we could see Ovi holding the door open for us. Once through we talked for a moment and then Ovi gave Luke a signed jersey.
In return Luke gave Ovi a LukesSquad t-shirt.
Throughout this rather whirlwind process Luke has had a lot of new adult faces, most of whom want to poke & prod him – taking vitals, shining lights in his eyes, testing his strength & relaxes, basically all sorts of somethings that make a little six-year-old less trusting of adults.
However Luke seemed to trust Ovi, wasn’t fearful or wary of him, and their exchange warmed my heart. Ovi seemed to genuinely care about Luke, this wasn’t something he had to do, not some photo op I reason that people who are famous like him endure endlessly. Ovechkin did not do this for good PR.
I’ve always thought hockey players were some of the most down to earth sports professionals and this encounter only served to solidify that belief. Even when Luke got upset because Ovi “ruined” his goal nightlight by autographing it (and subsequently throwing it – again steroids are a challenge emotionally), Ovi’s reaction was touching.
I said, “Steroids are no good.”
Ovi said, “Yes, no good…. It’s fine, no problem” and smiled.
The moment was special, Ovi’s heart was and is so giving and caring and we were so grateful for Luke to get to have this experience. Leadership on the ice is one thing, but the kind of leadership Ovi showed by engaging this way is something our family will never forget.
I wanted to be respectful of the gesture Ovi made, but also try to bring some awareness to DIPG & Luke’s story. I reached out to our friend to see if she could check with Ovi to see if it would be ok to share this with RMNB. She texted Ovi and he said, “For sure, as long as that helps raise awareness.” I told her thank you and to thank Ovi and let him know what a special kind of person we thought we was. Ovi’s response, “He replied, “spasibo 🙏🏻🙏🏻” which means thank you in Russian.
Thank you for taking time to read this, or rather Spasibo!