SIOUX CITY | Michele White can’t wait to drop the puck Saturday night.
The 71-year-old mother of two and grandmother of five, including Sioux City Musketeers forward Parker Ford, has been free of breast cancer for three years. She considers the Musketeers’ annual Pink In The Rink game an honor to represent women who have battled this disease.
Before White was diagnosed, she said she never gave breast cancer a thought, though she was proactive in yearly mammogram tests. Now, she said she realizes one out of every eight women are affected.
“I’m looking forward to getting to Sioux City,” said White, a retired surgical assistant at a dental practice in Warwick, Rhode Island, who lives with her husband of 51 years, Rick, in Inglewood, Florida.
“It’s going to be fun, exciting, I feel very privileged to do this,” she added. “First of all, Parker is a very special grandson. For me, it was like cancer was physical, but it was also emotional. It made me realize how fragile life can be and how much family and friends mean. It taught me to embrace each day and love each day. Being (three years free) is difficult to answer. It never leaves the back of your mind. You need to embrace each day because … you just don’t know.”
There was no history of breast cancer in her family when White, the matriarch of a hockey-crazed family, detected a lump in her left breast five months after a mammogram in April of 2014. History doesn’t always repeat itself in this condition, it finds new individuals, and the discovery offers an unsettling feeling which White experienced.
“I felt healthy. I felt good,” she said. “Summer was ending, I was ready to come to Florida, life seemed great, then boom … I did learn that the density of a woman’s breast tissue made a difference in detection. I had surgery in October, then chemo, then radiation followed chemo.
“I remember saying to the doctor, I was 68 and she asked me for choices of treatment. I said, I want whatever treatment to get it through. My husband was so supportive. He was with me emotionally and physically, every step of the way. You need someone.”
Chemotherapy was tough for her and slowed her down for three to four months. She returned to yoga and has maintained yoga and meditation to this day.
Ford, a 17-year-old Providence College recruit from Wakefield, Rhode Island, believes his grandmother’s attitude enabled her to defeat breast cancer. Personally, Ford applied pink tape to his hockey stick and texted his grandmother before and after every game.
Ford used her inspiration as a source for him to succeed on the ice, knowing she was an online viewer of many of his games at Selects Hockey Academy, based in South Kent, Connecticut.
“It was amazing to see her go through it and how strong she was in this whole thing,” said Ford. “I had no doubt in my mind she’d go through it being strong. I know she went through chemo and radiation and lost all of her hair, but I don’t know much other (details).
“She had a really good attitude. She didn’t want to think about it, the less stress for her to go through. That’s what got her through it. She went on with her normal life.”
A native of Cranston, Rhode Island, White said her father, Richard Casavant, played pond hockey during the long and cold Rhode Island winters. Her brother Steven played hockey.
White’s husband, a retired industrial arts teacher and high school football coach in South Kingston, Rhode Island, played the sport as did their son, Brant (Ford’s uncle) and Brant’s uncle, Ted White. Rick White’s father Edward White didn’t play, but founded the CLCF (Cranston League for Cranston Future) to get youth participating in the sport.
Michele didn’t know how to answer the question of whether her grandson has the same hockey traits as his relatives.
“Parker is Parker,” she said. “He’s an inspiration too. He’s quite a guy, he really is. I have a soft spot for him and he has a soft spot for me too. I love to watch him play hockey.
“I see him, I don’t see anyone else. Parker’s shiftier and faster than his grandfather on the ice. Sidney Crosby (of the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins) is a hero of Parker’s. One of Parker’s dogs is named Sid.”
Ford’s only hope is to be able to play in front of his grandmother. He had five assists in the preseason for the Musketeers, three occurred during a hat trick for Samuel Salonen in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Muskegon Lumberjacks on Sept. 29 at the USHL Fall Classic in Cranberry, Pennsylvania.
That same night, he broke his left thumb while battling in the boards. He’s expected to be out for possibly two to four weeks.
“I want to play in that game in the worst way,” he said. “I know I’m going to dress for the game. I told her I’m going to try my hardest to be back.”