Commentary: Kushneriuk’s cancer battle touches Robert Morris community

The college hockey universe is full of die-hard, passionate fans, players and coaches. And it is a small universe indeed, all things considered. All involved parties have ties and relationships to people on other teams and in other leagues.

That is not to say that our hearts all beat as one, especially when it comes to rivalry or tournament games. But when it comes to tragic circumstances that occur to members of our college hockey “family,” it moves the ground under our feet no matter which school we follow.

When the news came that Robert Morris alum Chris Kushneriuk had been diagnosed with testicular cancer, it sent a blow to the hearts of Colonials fans. For others, it raised questions about what they’d do if it was a player from their favorite team.

Kushneriuk had been looking forward to another season, his second full campaign in the ECHL, with the Bakersfield Condors, and vividly remembers the circumstances that prompted his first suspicion.

How to help

Chris Kushneriuk will incur some amount of medical expenses in his battle with testicular cancer, and Robert Morris is raising money through sales of a bracelet emblazoned with “KRUSH CANCER.” It can be purchased for $5 with all proceeds going to Kushneriuk.

“I can’t thank everyone who has purchased these enough,” Colonials coach Derek Schooley said. “Chris would also like to donate some of the proceeds to the hospital where his treatments take place.”

Bracelets can be purchased by sending a self-addressed, stamped envelope and a check (made out to RMU Men’s Hockey) or money order for $5 to:

RMU Men’s Hockey
6001 University Blvd
Moon Township, PA 15108

Robert Morris also will host Men’s Cancer Awareness Weekend on Nov. 2-3 while the Colonials host Bentley. Donations will be accepted at both games.

“I was actually training for this upcoming season — I was planning on going back to Bakersfield,” he said. “I noticed I was starting to have a pain in my side. Kind of a dull, achy pain. It wasn’t going away, and I started to feel sick to my stomach. I actually went to the hospital to get checked for a kidney stone and they discovered a dark mass in my stomach. Through more CT scans they discovered the testicular cancer. I am very fortunate that they were able to find it.”

Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley was in unfamiliar territory following the news. Most of his alumni have yet to reach 30 due to the program’s brief history. And, with such young former players, it was hard for him to be prepared for the news that one of his former players was stricken with cancer so soon.

“When I first heard of Chris’ condition I was shocked. It’s a terrible situation when you have an alum that’s so young and is afflicted with this disease,” Schooley said. “Hopefully sooner than later he’ll get some more encouraging news and will be on the road to recovery.”

Kushneriuk was shocked as well but has kept a positive outlook on his situation.

“It hits you really hard at first. When I first got diagnosed, my heart went to the floor and shattered into pieces. But you put your faith in the right place and trust in God’s plan. I’ve been through my chemotherapy and I can now see the light at the end of the tunnel. I am blessed to have as much support as I do. I just have to get through this next surgery and take every day as it comes to me.”

The next surgery will occur in early November to possibly remove part of his liver that has been affected; the cancer spreads through the body quickly. However, Kushneriuk’s physicians are extremely optimistic on his outlook.

Meanwhile, his former coach is constantly reminded, through Kushneriuk’s faith and attitude, of the player and former Colonials captain that Schooley pursued from Wayne State upon its folding in 2009.

“His attitude has been tremendous. He’s been positive and enthusiastic, just like he was when he played for us,” Schooley said. “He was a real battler and competitor and he’s not going to let this beat him. If anybody in our family ever had this happen to them, I can only hope they’d have his type of attitude.”

The circumstances have prompted Kushneriuk to help spread the word about cancer awareness and have provided him with a perspective well beyond his 25 years.

“When something like this happens, you really look at life in a different light and you see things differently,” Kushneriuk said. “I really appreciate things more like family and friends — the true finer things in life, not the material things. I wake up every day excited for having another chance to fight this.”

The strength comes from a number of sources, he said.

“First and foremost my faith; cancer will never be able to break my relationship with God,” he said. “My family and the outreach of support from friends and organizations I’ve been a part of has also dug me out of some tough times. I think people underestimate the true value of friendship and the experiences we have with loved ones.

“I can remember sitting in my hospital bed undergoing chemotherapy treatments and getting visited by some of my RMU teammates, reminiscing about some of the amazing times we’ve had both on the ice and at school. Those memories can never be taken away from us. They can help us through some of life’s bitter trials and I’m very blessed to have had all these amazing experiences to draw back on.”