PHOTOS: Colorado Avalanche Player Surprises Casper Pediatric Cancer Survivor with Stanley Cup
It's been a year.
Last October, 9-year-old Ashlinn Swanson got sick and wasn't getting better.
When it became clear to her parents that that this was more than just a flu, they took her to the doctor.
"Her white blood cells were really low," Ashlinn's mom Nichole told K2 Radio News. "Come to find out, we went to the Wyoming Medical Center and they tested her cells, and told us that they were dangerously low. She was actually airlifted to the Denver Children's Hospital."
Though the first doctors they spoke to couldn't find anything wrong, Nichole and Aadam, her parents, knew better.
In March of this year, they took Ashlinn to see an oncologist and the news was not surprising, but it was devastating.
Ashlinn had cancer.
Leukemia, to be exact. Luckily, they caught it before it could really spread.
"We caught it early," Nichole said. "They say that once it's in your body, it can take up to four to six months for it to actually show up in a blood test. And that was about the timeframe we were at, from her being sick in October and then being diagnosed in March."
They caught the cancer quickly and immediately began chemotherapy and all of the other forms of treatment that come with the diagnosis.
"She started really going through her procedures pretty consistently," Aadam said. "You know, spinal taps and spending a lot of time in and out of hospitals, and constant doctor visits, getting poked and prodded."
Ashlinn has been receiving chemotherapy treatment at the Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children, in Colorado. And it was while there this past week that she met a very special fan: Devon Toews with the Stanley Cup-winning Colorado Avalanche.
Toews actually brought the cup with with him to meet Ashlinn and all of the other pediatric patients and Ashlinn was, as to be expected, absolutely mesmerized by the Stanley Cup.
"Someone from the hospital came in and just told us that a player from the Avalanche hockey team was gonna be bringing the Stanley cup in that day," Nichole told K2 Radio News. "It was a last minute thing I guess and they said it was kept on the down low so the kids would be surprised. It was pretty incredible! Devon Toews was the player and he was so insanely nice and not afraid to just get right in there and be with the kiddos. It was quite the experience and we are so very thankful we got to be a part of it."
Toews offered up the cup to Ashlinn, who didn't even attempt to hide her enormous, beautiful smile.
"Do you want to touch it?" Toews asked. "It's shiny, isn't it? And you can drink out of that side; it's great."
When Ashlinn was asked what she would drink out of the Stanley Cup, she offered up an obvious answer.
"An Icee," she laughed.
"An Icee would be really good," Toews remarked. "I think a couple of the guys did that, actually."
It was an incredibly moving, powerful moment for Ashlinn, her parents, Toews, and everybody else who got to witness it.
"She was pretty excited to see the cup and how big it was and so was I!" Nichole said. "I had no idea it was so huge! I was stoked and told her that people would be so jealous that she got to see it and touch it. It was a once in a lifetime opportunity!"
And, luckily, it's a lifetime that will last a very, very long time because Ashlinn is in remission.
Though she's still in a two-year treatment program, Ashlinn is cancer free. And she's close to being able to come home, and to go back to school.
"She’s doing absolutely amazing!" Nichole said. "Her intense chemotherapy is about to an end and she will continue to take chemotherapy pills instead of having to do the infusions into the port they put in her chest. She unfortunately wasn’t able to attend school yet but we are hoping by the end of October which would be a great birthday gift for her since her birthday is on Halloween."
It's been one year. One year of pain, one year of traveling, one year of Ashlinn being away from her friends and family. It's been a year of uncertainty. But, it's also been a year of hope. It's been a year of closeness between Ashlinn and her parents. It's been a year of heartache and triumph. And, through it all, Ashlinn has never lost her smile. And she's never lost her will to fight; not just for herself, but other kids as well.
"I want to help other kids beat cancer, because that's what I did," Ashlinn said.
And that's exactly what she and her parents are doing. September is Leukemia Awareness Month, and Ashlinn is raising money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. They have a goal of $500 and are already at $355 raised.
"There is no known cause for leukemia, so funding for research is huge," Nichole said.
This isn't the first time they've raised money for a cause, either. Back in June, Ashlinn participated in Casper's Lemonade Day, and the money they earned on that day is money that they donated to the Jason's Friends Foundation.
Because that's the kind of person Ashlinn is. That's the kind of people Nichole and Aadam are. They want to help people. They want to give other kids reasons to smile.
Ashlinn had a big reason to smile when she met the Colorado Avalanche Defenseman, Devon Toews. He didn't have to visit the hospital. He certainly didn't have to go room-to-room, child-to-child. But that's exactly what he did. He took the Stanley Cup, which the Avalanche won just a few months ago, and he showed Ashlinn and her peers that there are things worth working towards, things worth fighting for. And while a child's life is much more important than a trophy, he used the Stanley Cup as a way to encourage and inspire those kiddos.
What he didn't know, until he showed up, was that he would be just as inspired after hearing Ashlinn's story. It's a story that has many more chapters. But this one? This chapter will be called: 'The Day I Touched the Stanley Cup.'