Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. –Hebrews 11:1
“Son, we need you to come home right now. We need to talk...” The words trail off, but pierce right to the heart coming from a mother to a son. A son that, just moments before, was innocently headed to take his last school final; finally having reached the capstone of achievement and with a much needed break to look forward to. But, those words heard over the phone cut deep and the journey home only allowed the mind to wander to the what ifs and the what could be.
The word cancer penetrates the deepest part of our humanness. The vulgarity of the word and the ruthlessness at which it attacks is unmatched in our vocabulary. The word itself simultaneously brings out feelings of hate, helplessness, despair and condemnation. The way it forces individuals to confront their mortality head on thrusts the body into an instant rush of fight or flight. When Kansas City Mavericks defenseman Justin Woods heard his diagnosis of Ewing’s Sarcoma cancer from his own mother that day, he faced the trepidation and fear of what lied ahead straight on. He was in a fight he could not afford to lose against a foe he knew nothing about.
“I’m going to get through this. We’re going to get through this as a family. I was a little scared inside,” he admits, “But I told them don’t be afraid, we’re going to get through this. God gave me that and He put that faith in me and my family through that whole process.”
When things come crashing down around a man, especially one with so much life to live and abundant opportunities to fulfill lifelong goals, sometimes faith is all you have to fall back on. The beautiful part about faith is you believe it with the deepest part of your soul. It’s not tangible, it’s internal. It’s instilled in a person at an early age and no matter how hard one fights it, it stays with you…and when you need it the most, there it is. It pulsates through a person’s words, actions, and reactions. Woods’ reaction was to do all he’d ever known…fight it head on.
“Growing up, my mom would always teach us about Jesus and pray with us. My faith is the most important thing in my life. If I didn’t have that…I don’t know where I’d be. I don’t know if I’d even be playing hockey.” But, Woods did continue playing hockey. Equipped with an amazingly high hockey IQ that was nurtured by his coach, Rob Proffitt, at an early age, Woods had successfully made the transition from U18 hockey to the NAHL as his career began to takeoff. Following that, a stop in the USHL with the Lincoln Stars got the attention of college scouts at his home school, the University of Alaska-Fairbanks…prior to the diagnosis that changed his life.
Following a redshirt freshmen year in which surgeries to his right leg and numerous rounds of chemotherapy and radiation were administered over a ten month period, Woods returned to the ice only twelve months after the diagnosis of the rare bone cancer. His faith refused to waver and with a resolve to beat this thing and return to playing the sport he loved, Woods wouldn’t, check that, couldn’t be denied.
However, the road to recovery was marked with agonizing steps along the way that would test the perseverance of a normal man. But, then again, a normal man might have walked away. A modern day David, Woods took on this Goliath in front of him and proved that this cancer had met an admirable foe.
“When I first stepped back on the ice, I couldn’t skate. My right leg was so weak. My ankle had no stability, but it was just amazing to actually get to put on my gear again. I’m so blessed.”
And blessed he was. To stand on the ice just a year removed from the most devastating news one can receive, can only be seen as a product of a resolute mindset that one will not be defeated by what lies in front of you, when He stands behind you. That night, the first night Woods was able to pull on the yellow and gold of the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, provided a pivotal moment on the journey of recovery; a moment to reflect and soak in the beauty of life and all it has to offer to each of us.
“It was really emotional, to say the least. They announced my name and my teammates all hugged me…people gave me a standing ovation…”
The words trail off as though he still can’t believe the amount of people he had in his corner through it all. Community is a building block to recovery and through his immediate family, his hockey family, and his church family, Woods was able to turn a word of destruction into a word of hope, healing, and faith; words that cancer can not comprehend.
“I had so much support. People sending me things, people I didn’t even really know came to visit me in Seattle (during treatment). It makes it a lot easier going through that kind of stuff.”
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. –Philippians 4:13
Cancer creates time for self-reflection. A diagnosis begins a seemingly never ending cycle of doctor visits, scans, treatments, more doctor visits, more scans, more treatments…and on and on. In the moments where all one can do is hurry up and wait, time creeps away slowly and the mind can wander. Questions arise about what the end result will be. Battles are fought internally and externally as the mental anguish is as trying as the physical pain. Yet, Justin Woods stood fast to the words he spoke to his family when he received his diagnosis.
We will get through this. Along the way, he answered for himself the question all cancer patients ask…why me? “If I can inspire people to turn to Jesus through my actions and be a good example and have a good attitude through that whole process, then that was my purpose to show people to show how strong you can be.”The incredible thing about having faith like Justin Woods is that you don’t always have to know the why, you know the who. The journey will have many more steps along the way, but he has put his trust in the one that goes before him.
How can we help put an end to childhood cancer? Get involved in helping fund research for these specific types of pediatric cancer.
For the past four years, the Mavs Insiders have adopted a Mavericks player for Hockey Fights Cancer month and donated to a cancer research charity based on that player’s stats for the month of November. This year, the Mavs Insiders are adopting Justin Woods and will be making a $10 donation in his name to Braden’s Hope for Childhood Cancer (bradenshope.org) for each point that Justin records during the month of November.
We encourage each Mavericks fan to consider what you can do to help the continuing battle against all forms of cancer. Some fans have adopted a player and given an amount based on number of goals, penalty minutes, or number of shots on goal. Others have donated money based on the number of fans that have attended games at Silverstein Eye Centers Arena during the month of November or have given a donation for each fight that happens. These are just a few examples of how you, the Orange Army, can help battle this terrible disease and help someone you may never know. Together, we can make a difference.
Throughout Hockey Fights Cancer month, we celebrate those that have turned the corner towards recovery, remember the ones that fought so bravely, and stand beside those in the midst of their battle. By faith, we will see an end to cancer.