Nunavut boy with rare cancer drops the puck at Winnipeg Jets game
'It was magical,' says Dustin Nanordluk's dad, who had tears in his eyes as he watched his son
Dustin Nanordluk was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer two months ago.
He's just six years old.
But the boy from Naujaat, Nunavut, seemed to forget all his pain and worries as he stepped onto a blue carpet, puck in hand, surrounded by an arena full of clapping fans at an NHL game on Monday.
"As soon as he started walking down that carpet there, I started yelling and clapping," said Dustin's dad, Joe Nanordluk.
"I had a couple of tears of joy and it was unbelievable," added Joe, who said it was his little boy's dream to be out on the ice with his favourite hockey team — the Winnipeg Jets.
It was Dustin's first live game. Joe said his son is typically shy, but he looked confident in front of the 15,000 screaming fans, even planting a high-five in Jets captain Blake Wheeler's hands.
"I was surprised to see that with him," Joe Nanordluk said. "When he was walking and giving a high-five, and shaking hands with the NHL players, he was like a normal child."
Dustin and three other young Jets fans battling cancer took part in a ceremonial puck drop at Bell MTS Place — an opportunity made possible through the CancerCare Manitoba Foundation and the NHL's Hockey Fights Cancer campaign.
"It was magical," said Joe.
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To bed with puck in hand
Dustin has acute promyelocytic leukemia, which is rare in children.
It's a cancer of the bone marrow that puts a person at high risk for infections and excessive bleeding, as it affects white blood cell count.
It's most often diagnosed in adults around the age of 40. About 70 to 90 per cent of patients who are treated for this form of leukemia are cured, according to the Canadian Cancer Society.
Dustin is the first case of acute promyelocytic leukemia that's being treated by CancerCare Manitoba's pediatric team in over 10 years, according to the CancerCare Manitoba Foundation.
"It was really tough for us when we first found out," said Ruth Nanordluk, Dustin's mom.
Dustin and his parents have been in Winnipeg for the past three months as he undergoes intense chemotherapy treatments, while the rest of his siblings are back home in Nunavut.
"Because he's our youngest boy, that was even harder," said the mother of six.
So walking her son down the carpet at the Jets game was "like a dream," she said.
"Watching him do all that, like, all my worries or pain that I've been feeling, they were all gone."
Ruth said Dustin kept counting down the days until the puck drop.
Even after the game, back at the hotel, Dustin's excitement couldn't be contained.
He was thrilled to meet his favourite player — and name twin — Dustin Byfuglien. He also received an autographed poster of the Jets defenceman.
"He couldn't stop talking about the game," said Joe Nanordluk. "As he fell asleep, he was holding onto the puck that he dropped, fell asleep in the jersey."
Ruth Nanordluk said the family is receiving a lot of support and get-well cards from across Nunavut.
"We want to say thank you to everybody and our northern neighbours," said Ruth.
Dustin and his parents are planning to stay in Winnipeg for another eight months for his treatment, said Ruth.
With files from Kate Kyle