So­lar Bears help fight can­cer

Dur­ing Hockey Fights Can­cer month, play­ers and coaches dis­cuss per­sonal con­nec­tions to disease.

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Stephen Ruiz

Alexan­der Kuqali, the Or­lando So­lar Bears’ 6-foot-2, 225-pound hulk of a de­fense­man, never felt more over­whelmed than the day he told his mother she had can­cer. Mar­cia Karuba be­gan ex­pe­ri­enc­ing in­tense ab­dom­i­nal pain in April. She even­tu­ally was sched­uled for a pro­ce­dure on her colon in Au­gust. When she awoke, groggy from the anes­the­sia but want­ing to know the out­come, her doc­tor was un­avail­able.

Kuqali had been briefed about his mother’s con­di­tion.

“The pro­ce­dure hadn’t been com­pleted, be­cause there was a growth,” Kuqali (pro­nounced Coo-callee) said. “They told me it was can­cer. That was def­i­nitely one of the harder things I’ve ever had to do, to try to ex­plain to my mother the sever­ity of the sit­u­a­tion.”

Karuba, 67, was di­ag­nosed with ovar­ian can­cer. She is sched­uled for surgery Wed­nes­day in Pitts­burgh dur­ing a month in which the sport that both of her sons have played pro­fes­sion­ally pro­motes Hockey Fights Can­cer.

The So­lar Bears (4-7-1-1, 10 points) will face the host Idaho Steel­heads on Wed­nes­day night. Or­lando’s Hockey Fights Can­cer game is not sched­uled un­til Feb. 29 against the New­found­land Growlers at Amway Cen­ter.

“It’s just like the en­emy within,” Karuba said.


Num­ber of Amer­i­cans who re­ceived new di­ag­noses of can­cer in 2018.


Amer­i­cans who died from can­cer in 2018. Source: Na­tional Can­cer In­sti­tute

More than 1.7 mil­lion Amer­i­cans re­ceived new di­ag­noses of can­cer in 2018 and about 609,000 peo­ple died from it. Those num­bers come from the Na­tional Can­cer In­sti­tute. On a more per­sonal level, like a robo­call, can­cer has in­truded on some So­lar Bears’ lives.

So­lar Bears as­sis­tant coach Jared Staal’s fam­ily started a foun­da­tion in 2012 to sup­port chil­dren and fam­i­lies bat­tling can­cer.

“I find it hard to be­lieve if you haven’t been af­fected by can­cer,” Staal said. “It’s sad to say, but some­one you know, it’s prob­a­bly go­ing to hap­pen. It’s just that big of a disease.”

Or­lando goal­tender Zach Fu­cale’s grand­fa­ther bat­tled prostate can­cer, and a for­mer team­mate, Ve­gas Golden Knights de­fense­man Shea Theodore, learned he had tes­tic­u­lar can­cer this year.

Fu­cale is par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Movem­ber move­ment by grow­ing a mous­tache this month. Movem­ber has col­lected more than $911 mil­lion for prostate and tes­tic­u­lar can­cer, men’s men­tal health and sui­cide preven­tion since launch­ing in Aus­tralia in 2003, spokesman Keith Sex­ton said.

Fu­cale did not learn his grand­fa­ther, An­tonino Fu­cale, had can­cer un­til af­ter his death in 2006 of a heart episode.

“My dad told me that it made his life pretty mis­er­able,” Fu­cale said.

Kuqali’s mother has en­dured chemo­ther­apy, rob­bing her of her hair, if not her spirit. Be­liev­ing his mom needed him more than hockey, Kuqali, 28, ques­tioned briefly whether he wanted to con­tinue to play.

The So­lar Bears are part of Kuqali’s fam­ily, though. He joined the fran­chise last sea­son, and his brother, Ni­cholas, played three games for Or­lando dur­ing the 2012-13 sea­son, the team’s first in the ECHL.

Karuba even has a cat, an orange tabby, named So­lar Bear.

“I don’t have any doubt of the process of get­ting it out of my body,” Karuba said. “Re­turn­ing is a thought I let in that I wish I hadn’t. I don’t want to put that out in the uni­verse. You want to beat it and keep it out there, keep it away.”

Kuqali said he didn’t tell any­one of his mother’s di­ag­no­sis for about a week.

He re­al­izes now that was a mis­take.

“It re­ally just warped my mind and turned me in­side out,” Kuqali said. “I didn’t know what to feel or [how to] re­act. Your mind can re­ally ma­nip­u­late it into the worst when in re­al­ity, there are a lot of suc­cess­ful sto­ries and there is a lot of help.”

Karuba at­tended a So­lar Bears prac­tice last week at which Kuqali took a hard shot that broke his right foot.

He is re­cov­er­ing. Kuqali’s mother is op­ti­mistic she will do the same af­ter Wed­nes­day’s surgery.

“Liv­ing with it and know­ing it, you look for the day that it doesn’t show up, right?” Karuba said. “That’s my endgame. You want to live. My boys, I don’t have any grand­kids yet. I’m hop­ing for some­thing to go on. You want to see them play. You want to be in their lives.”


So­lar Bears de­fense­man Alexan­der Kuqali hugs his mother, Mar­cia Karuba, af­ter prac­tice last week. Karuba was di­ag­nosed with ovar­ian can­cer in Au­gust and is sched­uled for surgery Wed­nes­day in Pitts­burgh.


So­lar Bears goalie Zach Fu­cale’s grand­fa­ther suf­fered from prostate can­cer, and a for­mer team­mate was di­ag­nosed with tes­tic­u­lar can­cer.

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