Instance a true inspiration

KIRK PENTON, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:42 AM ET

There are many moments in the Darci Instance story that tug on the heart strings.

You could start with the time two years ago when Instance's team, Winnipeg's Polar Ice Bears, was playing against a squad from Thunder Bay at a tournament in the U.S. There was an on-ice incident.

"One of the players told her to grow some effing hair when they were in the corner," Polar Ice coach Ashley Van Aggelen said. "I jumped the boards and hiked it over to the other bench and had words with the coach.

"I explained the situation to him in a very aggressive manner in the middle of the game. I actually almost spit on him by accident because I was talking so aggressively. I've never had my adrenalin pumping as much as I did at that moment."

There's a reason Van Aggelen was so upset about the hair comment. It's because Instance didn't have any after being diagnosed with malignant neoplasm of the peritoneum and was undergoing chemotherapy treatment.

She had cancer.

"He was really good about in the end," Van Aggelen said of the coach she chewed out. "But at first he was just as rude as she was.

"In the end he didn't let anybody leave to get on the bus. He wouldn't even let anyone get changed until they admitted who did it. They were in the arena probably 2 1/2 hours after the game, still sitting in their equipment."

Van Aggelen has always been there for Instance, ever since she made a rare trade in the Manitoba Women's Junior Hockey League to land her playing rights.

"She was in the junior draft and stuck out," said Van Aggelen, a teacher at St. James Collegiate. "She was probably the fastest skater in the draft, and she was only out of her chemo treatments for a month."

The coach and her captain will be together again tomorrow when they take part in the Strides for the Cure charity all-star game at Keith Bodley Arena. The game will raise money for cancer research, which will make it an emotional affair for Instance.

"It means a lot to me," said Instance, who plays for Polar Ice when she feels up to it, which is most of the time. "I was diagnosed with cancer when I was 17 and again when I was 20, (last) year. I just finished my second round of chemo, my second surgery and 25 radiations.

"So for me it's huge to be in this game and support such a great cause."

Instance had an 11-pound tumour removed from her abdomen three years ago, and she had a smaller one taken out last year when the cancer came back. She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the same time, so one of her ovaries had to be extracted as well.

Her last chemotherapy treatment was on Halloween, and she now has to visit the doctor once every three months instead of every week.

Van Aggelen started to tear up when talking about the inspiration Instance is to everyone who crosses paths with her at the rink. Instance downplayed that, saying she knows who the true heroes are.

"I'm playing for a lot of people tomorrow -- all the kids I did chemo with on the kids side of CancerCare," she said. "They're a huge inspiration. Unreal.

"You see a six-year-old sucking it up and getting the chemo, and people are complaining that it's cold outside or that they can't go on a trip or something. It puts everything into perspective."

Van Aggelen and Instance have had their share of disagreements over the last three years, but that's what happens when you're as close as they are.

"I tell her everything," Instance said. "She's a big help. She knows everything. She knows where my stress level is each and every day, because it does change."

Said Van Aggelen: "We've done the whole head-butting thing, we've done the crying thing, we've done the laughing thing, we've done the friend thing, and we have a very good player-coach relationship now. We both respect each other a lot.

"... We've grown. We have our love-hate relationship, but it's been good. I couldn't ask for a better captain."


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