The friends and family area the Canucks visit post-game at rival arenas can take on one of two tones: following a Vancouver win it’s a jovial, happy place filled with laughter, high-fives and fist bumps. After a loss, it’s muted and melancholy, everyone wishing they were meeting under cheerier circumstances.
Erik Gudbranson is happy to see his family, especially his younger brother, Dennis, regardless of the final score. They’ve been through much worse than a hockey defeat.
When Dennis was six-years-old he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia (AML), a type of blood cancer that starts in the bone marrow, stopping it from maturing properly. Without treatment AML can be fatal, so Dennis spent upwards of 20 weeks at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, receiving blood and platelet transfusions.
Five rounds of chemotherapy in six months and Dennis’ cancer went into remission. Six months later, it was back and the only cure was a bone marrow transplant. A perfect match was found (1 in 40,000 odds) through the Canadian Blood Services’ OneMatch program; Agnes from Newfoundland provided the marrow Dennis needed to live and following a stay at Toronto Hospital for Sick Kids, the healing began.
Dennis is now 19-years-old (12 years cancer free), living in Montreal, attending Concordia University. He’s happy, he’s healthy and he’s extremely thankful to have a brother like Erik.
“I remember one time he and I filled up water balloons and threw them at the nurses on my floor,” laughed Dennis, who watched Thursday night’s game in Ottawa alongside his parents, Wayne and Donna, and sister Chantal.
“That’s the thing about Erik, and all my siblings, that really helped with what I went through. Their way to support me was to not treat me any differently. They’d come to the hospital and instead of being awkward about it, they’d sit in bed with me and watch TV and play video games – normal sibling stuff. That really helped me stay normal; as a kid you never want to be the one who’s different and stands out.
“I went through a lot and they were always right there by my side. They were all hurting, but they didn’t get down, they focused on me and what I needed in my recovery.”
Now Erik is focused on continuing to help others with whatever battles they’re facing. Most recently Gudbranson lent his name and support to the #MenGiveLife campaign, organized by the Canadian Blood Services. In early September, without having even met all his teammates or donned a Canucks jersey on the ice, Gudbranson attended a press event in Vancouver to spread awareness for the cause.
Dennis couldn’t be prouder.
“He has so much weight behind everything he does and that he chooses to still advocate and be involved with Hockey Fights Cancer and Canadian Blood Services is amazing, he’s making a real difference to the children who are the sick and the families who need the support. It’s awesome.”
Erik laughed when told Dennis gave him so much credit in regards to his recovery, “he’s the toughest person I know,” replied Erik. Although he said it did make him a more mature person.
“I’m only 24-years-old,” said Erik, “but my decision making is that of an old man. What Dennis went through gave me a lot of perspective on life and what truly matters. It also made me very protective of my family and anyone I care about; I have to watch how that comes out on the ice when guys are messing with my teammates.”
“Something like that.”
The Gudbranson family will be in attendance Saturday to watch the Canucks take on the Toronto Maple Leafs and post-game, regardless of result, expect Erik and Dennis to be their usual selves.
Hopefully without any water balloons in tow.
What a story. The Gudbransons are an incredible family and the bond between Erik and Dennis is truly something special.
We’ve just begun to see what a standup guy Erik is, no wonder his Florida Panthers teammates were so sour when he was traded. Now he’s ours, all ours – mWUhahahahah!
Hello from Toronto!