Solar Bears help fight cancer
During Hockey Fights Cancer month, players and coaches discuss personal connections to disease.
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.