Cancer survivor has zest for life

The biggest victory for lacrosse player Carter Makofka was beating cancer.

  • Jul. 11, 2012 11:00 a.m.
Carter Makofka of the Lacoka Locos bantam B lacrosse team

Carter Makofka of the Lacoka Locos bantam B lacrosse team

The biggest victory for lacrosse player Carter Makofka was beating cancer.

On Oct. 18, 2010, Makofka was diagnosed with stage 3S Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which meant the cancer had gone through his lymph system and into his spleen. The next day he started chemotherapy, but was later classified as a rapid responder. The fourth and final round of chemotherapy ended on Dec. 29, followed by the 14th and last radiation treatment on Feb. 25, 2011.

In March, his one-year post-treatment tests came back clear and cancer free.

An emotional Makofka described his battle against cancer as “overwhelming.”

“It’s been a long one, a hard one. It not only took a toll on me but on my family too,” said the teary-eyed Grade 8 student at Mecca Glen School east of Ponoka.

Makofka’s story inspired his bantam B head coach, Curtis Huchkowski, to nominate the Lacoka Locos’ creaseman for consideration for the Jeremy Richardson Memorial Trophy. It’s presented annually at the Jeremy Richardson Memorial Baggataway Tournament hosted by the St. Albert Rams Lacrosse Club.

“I’ve had the pleasure of coaching him for six years now. He has shown dedication, perseverance, hustle, leadership and a zest for life that cannot be matched. His smile lightens up the room and is a constant source of entertainment,” said Huchkowski, who had to compose himself several times during his speech at the recent award presentation.

“Carter is an incredible young man who always has a smile on his face and a passion for life. He is very positive, hard working and an instrumental part of our team. He has not once said he can’t make a practice or a game even if he’s completely exhausted from his battle with cancer.”

The Rams renamed their annual tournament in Richardson’s memory and dedicated a trophy in his honour after the former St. Albert Saints’ hockey player and Rams’ lacrosse product died of malignant melanoma on Nov. 5, 2005 at the age of 23.

Richardson’s parents, Mitch and Robin, wife Gillian, and sister Jordie presented the trophy, a new lacrosse stick and a gigantic chocolate bar from Mayor Nolan Crouse to Makofka after the Locos defeated the Sherwood Park Titans en route to their gold medal triumph in the tournament.

“I’m very honoured,” Makofka said. “I went through a tough time and I know what he went through.”

Multi-sport star

Richardson grew up in St. Albert excelling in lacrosse and hockey. The high-scoring forward was instrumental in the Saints reaching the Alberta Junior Hockey League final in 2003. He also played a pivotal role on one of the first junior teams the Rams put together.

Richardson also played three years of junior lacrosse as one of the top scorers with the Edmonton Miners and was named MVP in a game at the 2003 Minto Cup national championship.

He was also the first Ram to be drafted in the National Lacrosse League, selected in the third round, 27th overall, by the Calgary Roughnecks in 2003.

That same year in August, Richardson was diagnosed with stage 3 malignant melanoma and underwent multiple surgeries and treatments at the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton. When the treatments were exhausted, he participated in numerous clinical trials over 18 months at the National Institute of Health in Bethesda, Md.

Richardson said the happiest day of his life was marrying Gillian Rauw on Sept. 3, 2005. Two months later he died.

The Miners dedicated their 2006 season to Richardson’s memory and retired his No. 23 jersey, the first number retired in team history. They also renamed the team’s offensive player of the year award in his honour.

It was a bittersweet moment for Makofka’s parents, Niki and Kyle, to witness the presentation.

“Under normal circumstances it is an honour, but the fact that both Carter and Jeremy and our families share this cancer connection really makes this award even more personal,” Mrs. Makofka said. “We are thankful that Jeremy and Carter have more things in common than both of them receiving devastating cancer diagnoses. They both have traits which include determination, spirit, and of course, a love for lacrosse.”

Loves lacrosse

Makofka was anxious to get back on the floor with the Locos, a combination of players from Ponoka and Lacombe, despite the treatments.

“I love the sport. I love the coaches and I love the players. They’re great guys,” said the sixth-year lacrosse player who made his bantam zone team for the 2012 Alberta Summer Games.

Niki said there were concerns about how the side effects from the treatments would affect her son.

“Carter was determined to play and we knew he just wanted his normal life back,” she said. “His coach, Curtis, said should I hold him back and I said, ‘No. Let him do what he wants to do.’ He went for it and has never looked back. He didn’t miss a game  or practice to any sickness or ill effects of his treatment plan and managed to score points in each game he played that year even though there were times he was feeling exhausted and short of breath.”

Mrs. Makofka said sports gave her son something to focus on other than the treatments. “It helped make him feel like a normal child. It was the thing he could count on and put his energies into,” she said. “Throughout his treatments he lost his hair, which he said was the hardest for him, but he stayed in school. His grades went up. He was the leading scorer on his basketball team all throughout the treatments, even with his bald head. His teammates were incredible to him and he had a lot of school support from his teachers and principal. They all really rallied around him.”

Makofka’s positive attitude played a major role in the war against cancer.

“It helped him and our family (including his sister, Callie) survive the diagnosis and treatment. It didn’t take the nurses long to figure out that Carter was a funny, outgoing kid. Every day we saw him, no matter how terrible he was feeling, he would smile and make the nurses laugh when they came in to take care of him. He never once asked, ‘Why me?’ His motto was, ‘OK, let’s do this.’

Mrs. Makofka stressed the personal attention her son received at the Edmonton Children’s Stollery Hospital and the Cross Cancer Institute helped make a difference.

“They gave him such excellent care,” she said. “He is not out of the woods yet, and it doesn’t sound like he is ever out of the woods necessarily, but he will be tested every three months for the next two years and then every six months. We actually have a 20-year plan of testing for him.

“He is good now and we just keep moving forward.”

By Jeff Hansen – St. Albert Gazette