Goals for Gillian: How a hockey mom's family grew as she battles cancer
Published Sunday, March 16, 2014 10:30PM EDT
The first thing I noticed about Gillian Friesen was her smile: shy, but friendly.
Then I noticed her hair, patchy from the cancer treatments and the chemotherapy.
In the pictures and video I'd seen of Gillian before our meeting, she always wore a touque.
I didn't ask, but it felt like she wanted me to see this. She wanted us all to see this: the scars that mark the fight for her life.
She tells me almost as soon as we meet, she has stage three brain cancer. It's incurable.
Gillian Friesen is 48, a young grandmother with two grown daughters. Her son Ryan is a teenager.
And always near is her husband Ron -- or as she calls him, Ronnie.
This tight-knit family added a few new members this year. A hockey team, in fact: the Manitoba Southeast Blizzard.
They're Ryan Friesen's teammates and friends, a group of 13- and 14-year-olds who have shown a province -- and now a country -- what it truly means to work as a team.
It started with a discussion in the change room. I'm told every player raised a hand when asked if cancer had touched their lives.
That's when the coach and the team, came up with a plan to raise money for cancer research and support the Friesens' fight.
In December, the Blizzard launched "Goals for Gillian."
Each player went door to door collecting pledges, which would translate into cash with each goal scored on the ice.
Between December and the last game played this week, the team has raised more than $7,000, and that amount has been matched by a group called Brain Canada, bringing the most recent total to $14,383.
For the Friesens, it's the effort that has meant so much.
They know people care. They can see it. And Gillian Friesen can feel it.
She told me she once took each day for granted. She doesn't anymore.
And some of her happiest days have been at the rink.
She's attended so many hockey games this season, cheering from the stands for her son -- and a group of boys she's come to think of as her family.