“I would have never thought that I’d be playing hockey at this level, let alone without him cheering me on from the stands.” -Chris Mei
Adirondack Frostbite Defenseman Chris Mei Shares His Father’s Story
My dad wasn’t just your typical father. He was my best friend and a major part of my life on and off the ice. If love could have saved him, my dad would have lived forever.
My dad, Don Mei, was your average young 50’s man. With 2 grown children and a beautiful wife, he had a lot to be proud of. My dad was a well-known, well- respected family man, who was considered the life of the party. You would never see him in a bad mood and he was always smiling, upbeat and making everyone around him feel good. His ability to make everyone laugh was at times embarrassing for myself, my sister and my mom, but we knew everyone thought the world of him, as did we, and as we grew past the “embarrassment” we realized just how much he meant to everybody who knew him. Most of my dad’s down time was occupied by the activities of the local minor hockey league, where he was a coach for many years, beginning his coaching career when I started playing at 4. When I turned 11, he decided to remain a coach in that league, and began encouraging me from the stands instead of from behind the bench.
Dad’s Diagnosis of Colon Cancer
Dad had annual physicals, participated in regular physical activity, usually watched what he ate, and didn’t drink or smoke. But in June of 2002, he started to complain about stomach pains. Given that he had recently pledged to eat healthier, we attributed this discomfort to a change in diet and perhaps some gastrointestinal sensitivity or food sensitivity. But just one month later, following some tests including a colonoscopy, my Dad was diagnosed with colon cancer. Just a short week following this diagnosis, he underwent surgery to remove the tumor, subsequently resulting in a colostomy. The Surgeon and the Oncologist told us that the tumor was the size of a pop can, and that the cancer had spread into his liver and kidneys. It’s amazing that he was nearly asymptomatic, with a tumor of that size. My Dad pulled through the surgery perfectly and began learning how to live with a colostomy. Chemotherapy began shortly thereafter and his incredible spirit helped us all get through it. Even during the tough days, He would never let on it was rough, always cracking jokes and smiling. In fact, chemo was going so well that we had no doubts he was going to beat this disease. As a family, we had a hard time tracking him down, between the hockey games and practices, the social outings and visiting his colleagues at work, you would never have guessed that my dad was going through something so devastating.
Dad’s Cancer Spreads
At Easter, 2003, Dad started to complain of lower back discomfort. That’s when we received the devastating news that the tumor was growing again and he needed radiation. The only option for him in the community we lived was to move to a city 3 hours away for the weeks he needed radiation. It was so hard to sit back and watch my father, a very sociable person who devoted his love, time, and energy to his family and friends, move away for weeks at a time all alone, and there was nothing we could do to help. Watching him go through this was even more devastating as we saw his spirit crumble. This disease was taking over this incredible person who I thought was invincible. I still remember the first day I went to visit him at the treatment center. My dad, so desperately trying to make me feel safe by putting on his smile – but being his son and as close as we were, I read through it. I knew how bad it really was.
Dad’s Final Fight
After returning from the 3 weeks of radiation my dad was happy to be home. But in June 2003, he took a turn for the worse and had to return to the hospital for treatment. Although I was working during the day, I would spend every spare minute, every lunch hour and every evening there with him. My mom, a retired teacher, would also spend most of her day there. Unfortunately, my sister lived 6 hours away and couldn’t be with my dad as much as she wanted to. From the time Dad was diagnosed, she would come home at least once a month, although we kept her updated with daily phone calls. Some days, my dad would be so drugged that he wouldn’t even know that we were there. But I know that even in his worse moments, he could feel the incredible love we had for him and could remember the best times with our family and the kids he had coached and mentored through hockey.
August 6, 2003, exactly one year and 1 day from his initial surgery, my dad passed away from metastatic colon cancer.
Breaking and Returning to Hockey
Since the age of 16, I have been playing hockey away from my home and my family. This was made easier by the strength of support I received from them and the security I felt in knowing they were there. With my dad’s diagnosis in 2002, I recognized what was potentially facing my family, and I decided that hockey was no longer a priority for me. I made the decision to quit the sport for the time being and stay home, where I felt I needed to be. I wouldn’t trade the year I spent with my dad for anything. After my dad passed away, I remained at home, continuing to provide and receive support from my family and friends. Although I completed school, returning to the sport I loved just didn’t seem appropriate at the time. It was only this past year, 2005, with the support of my family and friends that I felt ready to return to hockey, with an acceptance of the offer provided to me by the Adirondack Frostbite. It’s rather ironic the level of involvement this team and the United Hockey League have with colon cancer, the very disease that has devastated my family.
Wishing We Could Wind Back The Time For a Colonoscopy
The Surgeon has told us that had my dad had a colonoscopy at the age of 50 as part of his regular physical exam, they would have noticed a polyp, removed it, and my dad may have still been here with us today. What we wouldn’t give to rewind the time. I can’t even begin to put into words how much he meant and continues to mean, to my family and all the people he came in contact with. There is a huge hole in what our family used to be, and there isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t miss him. He wasn’t only my best friend but he is still my hero.