13 months ago

2019 Highlights of Hope: Fall/Winter

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PURPLE COMMUNITY REFUSING TO LET CANCER WIN, ERIN DEAN INSPIRES THOUSANDS MOTHER OF THREE DROPS PUCK, SHARES STORY AT GRAND RAPIDS GRIFFINS’ PURPLE COMMUNITY GAME Erin Dean didn’t have time for cancer. Not with a loving husband and three young kids active in a variety of sports. There were practices to attend and games to see. In October 2017, when the results of her mammogram were back and a Stage 3 breast cancer diagnosis was delivered, Dean summoned every ounce of her courage and resolved that whatever came next, she would fight to make life as normal as possible for her family. She never anticipated that her courage would give her a platform to inspire thousands. But that’s exactly what happened on a March evening in 2019, when Dean dropped the puck at the Grand Rapids Griffins’ annual Van Andel Institute Purple Community game. Some 10,000 spectators watched as Dean made her way onto the ice to briefly share her story before setting the game in motion. “The puck drop was so fun and surreal,” said Dean, who was gifted with three signed hockey sticks — including one from former Detroit Red Wings defenseman Chris Chelios — by the Griffins’ equipment manager prior to stepping into the rink. “It was quite the experience to be in front of 10,000 people. When I walked onto the ice, it was like ‘Oh my gosh!’” A mother’s resolve and a community’s support That momentous evening was the culmination of months of treatment that included 16 rounds of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy and 30 rounds of radiation. It was aggressive treatment, but even on the hardest days, Dean resolved to beat cancer and carry on with life as best as she could. She had an extensive network of supporters to help. Her husband, Ryan, was her “rock,” and countless friends and family stepped up to help with Dean’s household chores — mowing the lawn, cooking meals and the like. Dean found strength in Purple Community, where she was able to connect with other people who had been diagnosed with cancer and work with volunteers to organize fundraising efforts. “Purple Community had a lot of resources to get me plugged into a group of like-minded people who were pushing for research, pushing through survival,” Dean said. It also helped that all three of her children — Emily, Tyler and Gavin — were active in sports during her treatment. Dean refused to miss practices or games, even if that meant watching from the car when the side effects of treatment limited her mobility. Dean’s resolve — she would call it “stubbornness” — helped keep life going for her family. “It’s just the hand I was dealt, and I have to move forward with this as best I can and keep things as normal as I can for my kids,” she said. A platform to spread hope Dropping the puck at the Purple Community game was far from the only time Dean shared her inspirational message of hope. She was a featured speaker for the Duncan Lake Middle School Cancer Walk and was the “Featured Fighter” for Purple Community’s annual Bee Brave 5K. Funds raised by both events directly support research at the Institute. The Dean family has long been financial supporters of VAI and Purple Community, even before Erin’s diagnosis. They participated in cancer walks in their community, and Erin and her mother-inlaw have attended VAI’s Couture for a Cure benefit for nearly a decade. The 2019 Couture for a Cure event, set for Oct. 10, will happen right around the two-year anniversary of Erin’s cancer diagnosis. By then, she will have completed the reconstruction surgery that began over the summer, when she was declared cancer-free. ERIN DEAN & FAMILY “I’m really grateful for the opportunities that Van Andel Institute has given me,” Dean said. “It’s been a tremendous honor to have such a powerful platform to spread a message of hope.” ERIN DEAN “Purple Community had a lot of resources to get me plugged into a group of like-minded people who were pushing for research, pushing through survival.” — ERIN DEAN 30 | VAN ANDEL INSTITUTE HIGHLIGHTS OF HOPE VAN ANDEL INSTITUTE HIGHLIGHTS OF HOPE | 31

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