You know Ryan Howse is a gifted goal scorer, holder of Chilliwack’s all-time franchise record and closing in on the single season mark.
You know he’s a Calgary Flames draft pick and a good bet to see NHL action one day.
You know he skates like the wind and makes life miserable for opposing goalies.
But did you know his mom is a breast cancer survivor?
It’s not something he has ever advertised, but it is a thread woven just as deeply into his life as hockey.
Maybe deeper, because just three years ago, there was a very real possibilty that he might lose his mother.
Howse was just 15 years old when Roxanne was diagnosed.
He came to Chilliwack that year for training camp and pre-season, but went home when a friend passed away. After the funeral, Roxanne sat him down and laid it all out for him.
“They had known for a little while, but I had no idea,” he recalled. “It was pretty shocking news, and I didn’t know what to do or how to take it. She was always my biggest supporter.”
Roxanne used to spend many a day camped in the stands, watching her son play hockey. But she wasn’t there much that season as Howse suited up for the Major Midget Hockey League’s Cariboo Cougars.
“She didn’t want to be out in public much because she was so sick,” he said. “I’d come home from school each day, and she’d just be laying on the couch, not really doing much.
“I had to be mature at a really young age and look after my little brother more than I was used to, because Dad worked nights and Mom wasn’t up to it.”
Of all the worries that ran through his mind, and there were lots, the worst was the thought that four-year-old Dryden Howse might grow up without a mother.
“It concerned me a lot that she wouldn’t see him grow up and he wouldn’t have her around,” he said. “I couldn’t possibly thank her enough for what she’s done for me. She took care of me and raised me to become who I am today. Dryden needed that too.”
There were plenty of scary moments during Roxanne’s two years of treament and recovery.
Howse recalled coming up the stairs one morning and walking into her room to see her holding a fistful of hair a common side effect from anti-cancer agents. The treatment plan eventually included having both her breasts removed.
And while all this was going on, Howse also lost his aunt Joanne to cancer.
“She lived in Toronto and her dream was always to see me play hockey,” he said glumly.
In Roxanne’s case, there thankfully was a light at the end of the tunnel. The day came when she was finally pronounced cancer-free, and Howse said there was a profound sense of relief.
“I might not even be here playing for the Bruins right now if she had passed away,” he said. “It was just a relief knowing she wasn’t leaving us, and the worst part was over.”
Brandon Manning is one of the few who was privy to the Howse family struggles.
Manning and Howse became close friends during their minor hockey years in Prince George, and Manning came to know Roxanne very well.
“I’ve been fairly lucky with my family to never have anything like that hit really close to home,” Manning said. “My dad’s uncle passed away from bowel cancer last summer, but that’s about as close as it’s been for me.”
Manning had only a slight sense of what Howse was going through during Roxanne’s two years of treatment and recovery. All he could do at the time was provide Howse with someone who would listen.
“Unless you go through it, it’s hard to really understand it,” he said.
But as the Bruins prepared for their annual Pink in the Rink night, last Friday at the Prospera Centre against the Everett Silvertips, he thought about one more thing he could do.
On Jan. 12, he lost his locks, letting Bruins staff member and cancer survivor Andrea Laycock shave away his curly black hair.
“We take things for granted a lot of the time,” he said. “Maybe doing something like this opens some eyes.”
The gesture certainly means something for Howse, who still recalls that morning, with Roxanne and her hair.
“She was sitting in front of the mirror, very sad and upset,” he said. “A lot of people wouldn’t consider shaving off their hair, but a lot of people have no choice about it. For Brandon to do that shows what kind of a caring person he is.”