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#AHLOTB: Anas family fights breast cancer – and wins

by Tom Witosky | AHL On The Beat

Mothers and sons have special moments.

Demetra Anas, mother of Iowa Wild rookie forward Sam Anas, remembers the time she videoed her toddler son’s use of a hockey stick for the first time; he hit a ball straight as an arrow across the kitchen floor. She also clearly remembers the time she almost drove off the road when Sam disclosed he had figured out a secret that his mother had kept from him for years.

On Saturday, Demetra and Sam will have another special moment. As part of the Wild’s Pink in the Rink promotion in support of the fight against breast cancer, Demetra will be among the cancer survivors to make the honorary puck drop prior to the Wild’s Feb. 11 game against Grand Rapids.

When she drops the puck, her son will be representing the Wild at the faceoff.

“Pink in the Rink is important to me,” Sam Anas said. “My mom is a two-time cancer survivor and it’s very special for me to see teams like ours do something positive in the fight against breast cancer.”

The story of Demetra Anas’ two battles with breast cancer is one of personal resiliency and community support – both vital for those whose lives are affected by cancer. She has been free of cancer since 2012, but still guards against another occurrence with regular visits to her physicians for check-ups and maintenance of her mediport, which is the medical device used most often by cancer patients for chemotherapy.

“It certainly wasn’t a pleasant experience either time, but it was a challenge,” Demetra, who had to face her first bout with cancer at age 35, recalled. “I learned that you have to prioritize what is important in your life and then make it happen.”

Demetra, a top prosecutor for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, learned of her breast cancer the first time just as her father had died from cancer.

“My dad had died from it and had struggled for 20 years,” she remembered. “It scared the daylights out of me, but when you have two kids, a husband and a family, you do what the doctors tell you to do.”

With a five-year-old daughter, Georgia, and three-year-old son, Sam, she and her husband, Pete, decided to keep the problem simple without using the word cancer.

“We told them that something was growing in me and the doctor was going to cut it out,” she said. “And that I would have to take some medicine to make sure it doesn’t come back.”

She also explained to the children that the medicine would make her lose her hair.

“Obviously, terms appropriate for that age group,” she said.

Demetra had been asked by a family friend to write a eulogy for a woman who had helped her through her first bout with cancer. As she sat at the kitchen table and wrote, Georgia Anas looked over her mother’s shoulder.

“I was at the exact section where I was writing about how this woman had helped me when I had cancer,” Demetra said. “So my daughter says, ‘Mom, did you have breast cancer?’”

After acknowledging that she had had breast cancer, mother and daughter drove to pick up Sam at a friend’s house. When he got in the car, Georgia said to Sam, “Did you know Mom had breast cancer?”

Sam’s answer stunned his mother. “Yes,” he said quietly.

“He was cool as a cucumber and I just about drove off the road,” Demetra said.

“Sam,” she asked. “How did you know?”

“Well it’s the only disease where the medicine makes your hair fall out,” Sam said.

Eight years later, the family would confront a return of the cancer, but the previous experience and older children enabled the family to confront it together.

“We had a family meeting and told them exactly what was going on. We had a good prognosis,” Demetra recalled, adding that the tumor had been found in the shoulder area. “It was important that my children learned the power of support.”

In addition, family, neighborhood friends and parents from the children’s high schools also contributed time, car pools and cooking for the Anas family. “One person brought over an entire Thanksgiving dinner for us,” Demetra said. “They were that organized and helpful.”

Such support is vital to any cancer patient, she said. “My sister asked me if it was awkward to be accepting that kind of help. It isn’t when you know you need it.”

Soon after the discovery, Demetra began undergoing chemotherapy in preparation for surgical removal of the tumor. She discovered that chemotherapy had improved substantially.

“I didn’t throw up once,” she said. “But the joint pain was just awful. In the morning, I would come down the stairs on my rear end and stay downstairs the whole day. It really hurt.”

Within weeks though, she received a telephone call from her oncologist’s office and an early Christmas present for the family.

“When my oncology nurse called me, she was screaming at me that the tumor was gone. I had a scan and the tumor had completely gone away from the chemo,” she said.

Since then, Demetra has spent her time watching her children grow, continuing her legal career, but also volunteering to talk to other women who find themselves hit with breast cancer – even her own oncologist.

Her advice:

“Try to live life as normally as you can and think about your real priorities when it comes to family and friends,” she said. “Does it matter that the carpet didn’t get vacuumed or is it more important to be at your son’s hockey game?”

On Saturday, Demetra Anas will make her answer clear when she drops the puck with her son by her side.