Pink in the Rink

Jan. 30, 2014

Ken Rodriguez is a San Antonio native who covered his first Spurs game in 1981 for The Daily Texan, the University of Texas student newspaper. He spent 26 years in the newspaper business -- 21 of them covering sports -- before joining the marketing department at Our Lady of the Lake University in 2009. His column will appear every Wednesday.

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Pink in the Rink

Clarissa Hernandez was texting her mother when it happened: a sudden and mysterious pull in her lower abdomen followed by a discharge of blood. An ambulance arrived. Sirens wailed. Hernandez stopped breathing as paramedics rushed her to the emergency room.

“I died twice,” she says. “They had to resuscitate me twice. I have all the papers.”

During surgery, doctors found a rare tumor -- placental site trophoblastic -- in her uterus. They also found cancer that had spread all the way up to her chest.

That was two years ago. Hernandez, 35, recalls the details while lacing up a pair of ice skates at the AT&T Center Tuesday night. She’s about to join approximately 100 breast cancer survivors and the Rampage hockey team on a new pink ice surface.

To honor breast cancer survivors, the Rampage invited them to skate with players on the colored surface in advance of Friday’s fourth annual Pink in the Rink Night, presented by Cancer Therapy & Research.

“It means a lot to me to be around other people who have battled and survived breast cancer,” Hernandez says, her 8-year-old daughter, Miranda, standing by her side. “To go out there with the players is awesome.”

Survivors and family members will pour into the AT&T Center Friday night to watch the Rampage play the Toronto Marlies in a game to fight breast cancer.

Custom pink ribbon-themed jerseys will be auctioned after the game. A portion of the proceeds and ticket sales will benefit breast cancer research and awareness. The game on Feb. 1 last year set a franchise attendance record with a sell-out crowd of 16,205. The Rampage have raised more than $116,000 through the annual Pink in the Rink.

Cindy Matteson, a breast cancer survivor for nearly a decade, has attended every Pink in the Rink. Tuesday, she skated with the team, including four players who were wearing special pink jerseys: Greg Rallo, Bobby Butler, Jed Ortmeyer and Colby Robak. “It’s a wonderful experience,” she says. “It means a lot to me.”

Eight years ago, doctors told her she had Stage 3 breast cancer two days after Christmas. She underwent a double mastectomy, reconstructive surgery and months of chemotherapy. She endured weeks of radiation. She had additional surgeries, 10 altogether. While battling the disease, she became an aggressive fundraiser and advocate for research and awareness.

“I’ve been without evidence of the disease for five years,” she says.

Matteson is a cancer-fighting veteran, a hard-driving woman grateful for the fundraising efforts of the Rampage. Hernandez is a newbie, two years into a battle that’s astounded doctors.

She thought she was pregnant. So did doctors. But what was growing inside her body was a tumor that pulled on an artery, causing her to hemorrhage. “By the time I got to the hospital, I had lost a lot of blood,” she says. “I went into emergency surgery.”

Hernandez sweeps a hand from her stomach up to her breast. “That’s when doctors found I had cancer in my uterus, my chest, everywhere.”

She receives monthly treatments at the MD Anderson Clinic in Houston. “They don’t see any new cancer cells,” Hernandez says. “I pray every single day that those cells will stay away.”

Hernandez stands to look at the rink. “I feel blessed and grateful to be here,” she says before stepping onto the pink ice, “and to see another day.”

Help us make an impact in the fight against cancer. Click here to buy tickets to the fourth annual Pink in the Rink game on Friday, January 31. Together we can find a cure.