Lighting the lamp: 6-year-old John Gegen of Hastings continues to put cancer on ice
It's no secret that John "Mikko" Gegen loves hockey. So do his brothers and his parents.
So, what happened two weeks ago certainly must have been one of the best nights imaginable for the Hastings boy and his family.
The Gegens were the guests of honor at a fundraiser put on by the Minnesota Wild Foundation for Children's Hospitals called Wild About Children.
John, who is 6 years old, was diagnosed with Stage IV neuroblastoma, a type of childhood cancer, almost a year ago. He has been getting treatment at Children's Hospital ever since, and they chose him to represent the hospital at the fundraiser.
That meant the family could attend the function and meet all the Wild players.
"It was just fabulous," Shelly Gegen said.
All the Wild players were waiters at the tables, trading in their jerseys for aprons. Mikko Koivu came over to visit with John. So did Ryan Suter, Zach Parise and Niklas Backstrom, to name a few.
"(John) is pretty quiet," Shelly Gegen said. "He was just in awe of the whole thing. He shook hands and gave knuckles."
Shelly and Jon's first two boys, 15-year-old Michael and 12-year-old Jeffrey, reacted differently.
"(They) were beside themselves with excitement," Shelly Gegen said.
That the Gegens were able to do something positive for Children's gave them great pleasure.
"We were honored to be able to be there to represent Children's Hospital," Shelly Gegen said. "They've given us hope for a healthy future for John. They have not only cared for John, but they've cared for our whole family.
"Children's Hospital has given our family the best of the best in medicine, doctors, nurses and hope for a healthy future."
The event two weeks ago wasn't the only hockey-related blessing that the family has seen lately.
On John's birthday recently, one of his favorite hockey players, Derek Stepan, called him. Stepan, a fellow Hastings native, is now playing with the New York Rangers of the NHL. Prior to that, he stopped by on Christmas night to visit with John.
"John just told someone the other day that that was better than Santa," Shelly Gegen said.
John Gegen is nearing the end of his treatments and his surgeries.
There's one more surgery to go, but he's done with his chemotherapy and his radiation. He now is having antibody therapy and has been declared as having no evidence of disease. That said, he hasn't beaten cancer just yet.
He's working toward that, and is doing as well as possible, but there's still some work that needs to be done before he can be considered cancer free.
In addition, he'll be in for scans on a regular basis to ensure the cancer doesn't return.
He was in the hospital last week and has one treatment in April and one more in May.
"Then we hope we're done," Shelly Gegen said. "We hope that will be the end of his treatment."
Last year, when the diagnosis was given to the family, Shelly Gegen remembers talking with a social worker at the hospital.
The social worker was telling the Gegens to expect financial troubles, and at the time, Shelly Gegen said she was surprised. She and Jon each had jobs. Benefits. She figured they'd be fine, and that they wouldn't need much help.
She was mistaken.
"You just don't understand everything it takes out of a family when you are fighting this," she said.
Quickly, as word spread of John's disease, the community began to rally around the family.
A meal calendar was set up. T-shirts were made. Team John bracelets were made. Total strangers began sending money to the family. Gift cards arrived. Their house was decorated at Christmas by relatives. Birthday cupcakes were donated. Hockey teams held fundraisers. Lacrosse teams held fundraisers. A wrestling team held a fundraiser. Teachers in Eagan have donated money.
Recently, Shelly Gegen went to get her dress hemmed, and the person doing the alterations wouldn't let her pay.
"All those little things happen all the time for us," she said.
Another Hastings family, the Caneffs, have recently gone through their own battle with cancer. They had been overwhelmed with support from the community, too, and made their own donation to the Gegens.
"That was a huge one - it really touched my heart," Shelly Gegen said. "We're very appreciative of everything everyone is doing. The things the community has already done for us is amazing."
The timing of the gifts and generosity has surprised the family. They figured there'd be an initial outpouring of support, and then things would slow down. That hasn't happened.
"It wasn't all just right away," Shelly Gegen said. "It has continued throughout all these months that John has been going through treatment. The generosity just keeps coming in. In the midst of all this ugliness, there's been so much good. We are reminded of it all the time.
"They lift us up and give us the strength and courage to push on."
A benefit is planned for the Gegen family on Saturday, April 27, in Hastings. It is being called Light the Lamp for Mikko.
It will be held at the Hastings Country Club from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Tickets are available now for $25. They are $30 at the door.
They can be purchased now at Gahnz Furniture, MDK Design for Hair, Schommer Insurance and Radke Mohrhauser.
Silent and live auction items are also being sought.
Donations should be dropped off at Gahnz Furniture.
Monetary donations can be mailed to: Affinity Plus, John Gegen Benefit Fund, 1731 N. Frontage Road, Hastings.
More information can be found at mikkogegen.com.