TAUNTON — Members of the city’s police and fire departments took to the ice Saturday for a charity hockey game for the benefit of two members of the community fighting cancer.
Following last year’s loss to the firefighters with the help of a secret weapon, Taunton native and Vancouver Canucks defenseman Adam Gaudette, the police department pulled away this time with a victory.
Despite the outcome of the game, the winners and losers were not important — a sentiment made clear by two players and organizers from each department while grilling during a post-game barbeque at the Portuguese-American Civic Club.
“To have people come out of the woodwork and donate money and gifts is great — there wasn’t a whole lot of solicitation for this, and they just asked what they could do to help,” said Coyle and Cassidy High School coach and Taunton Police Lt. Darrell Borges.
Borges, who has organized the event for the charity game for the past two years, played in Saturday’s game as a defenseman and said approximately 15 police officers and 14 firemen played.
“There’s a history between the teams, whether it’s pickup or competitive…it’s always special when we’re all here together, even outside the rink. I’ve got guys I work with as a supervisor in the department, but when we step on the ice, we’re all equals.”
Taunton Fire Lt. Kevin Lavigne said that players from the fire department were just as enthusiastic about their involvement with the fundraiser as their law enforcement counterparts.
“It appears to gain momentum every year. I just want to thank those that participated, and we want to keep running this every year continue helping those in need, said Taunton Fire Lt. Kevin Lavigne, who also played defense for his team.
“They had a pretty solid team this year, but next year is a new game…we’ve got a good number of people that play hockey and softball on both departments, but hockey’s the big one right now for everyone.”
Borges said that more than $8,000 had been raised through department donations and game ticket sales, although there was also more raised in a raffle at the post-game barbecue.
The recipients of this year’s proceeds were 8-month-old Taunton resident Holly Rodrigues, who has been undergoing treatment for bilateral retinoblastoma for the past four months, and another member of the law enforcement community recently diagnosed with cancer.
Having received a $6,000 donation from the Taunton Police Department and the nonprofit Cops for Kids With Cancer, Holly’s parents, Bob and Diana Rodrigues, said they could not have been more grateful for the support provided by the city’s first responders and community at-large.
A GoFundMe page started by Diana for Holly’s treatments also brought in more than $15,000 in four months.
Four generations of family members from both sides of the Rodrigues family made their way out to the rink for Saturday’s game and barbecue, including Diana’s sister, Jill, great-grandfather, Franklin Place, and both sets of her grandparents.
“Lt. (Eric) Nichols is always just a phone call away if we need anything,” said Diana Rodrigues.
“It means a lot to see the community come together for our baby girl. It’s also exposure to show everyone out there that there are families in need… cancer doesn’t discriminate.”
“It’s been amazing having their support,” said Bob Rodrigues.
“This really gives us a nice sense of relief — that we’ve have so many good people out there helping to take care of us.”
In the two months since they have received the Cops for Kids and TPD donation, Diana said that the largest tumor in Holly’s left eye had calcified, meaning that it does not present the need to remove the eye.
She also said that it was the first month that Holly did not require chemotherapy, having had her fourth and final round in May — two less than the six that were expected originally.
Bob said that the couple are looking forward to visiting a doctor to determine whether their daughter could possibly have a central control line surgically implanted in her chest removed that is used for administering treatments and must be cleaned twice daily.
“She rolls like crazy, even with all the tubes in her chest. She keeps us happy because we know she’s happy,” said Diana.
“We went to the Cape and tried her in the pool, so she needed protection to keep everything dry…it was nerve wracking by the end because she got wet, but the line stayed dry. We just want her to be a regular kid and not have to deal with that.”
Recently, Bob reached out to other members of the retinoblastoma community online and he and Diana spoke with a number of survivors and families who had been in their situation.
The couple said they were reassured to hear from one 27-year-old survivor that told them he would not have been so lucky if his parents had not intervened and taken him to the doctor as early as they did.
Currently, Holly has no active tumors, but she will soon go to a doctor for an under anesthesia examination to see if there are any new ones, Bob said, adding that he was told she will have to be examined regularly until the end of elementary school.
“We’re hoping they find nothing,” he said.
Despite Holly’s increased risk of contracting other forms of cancer as she gets older, her parents said that they consider themselves lucky she did not respond too negatively to her treatments, or at the very least, require the removal of an eye.
“We kind of lucked out in a way because this wasn’t terminal cancer. Lots of people telling us it’s going to be OK, and that we’re in good hands. If it had been another month or even a week (before we noticed her tumor), she would have lost her eye,” said Bob.
“This is her whole life and I’m just working on trying not to worry what could happen in the future. We’re just trying to stay positive and not worry about what the future holds.”