Siena Wolcyn got the call a couple weeks ago that she was moving up to the big leagues – she’d been invited to hit the ice with the Minnesota Wild.
Not bad for an 8-year-old third grader from Cambridge.
Unfortunately, Siena has never been to a major league hockey game, doesn’t skate much and had to endure leukemia to qualify for the honor.
Siena’s parents, Ben and Becky Wolcyn, received a call inviting Siena to help film a promotional video for the Wild’s annual “Love Your Melon” night on Oct. 22.
For the fourth year, the Wild will partner with Love Your Melon, a Minneapolis nonprofit that creates and sells knit hats, socks and other gear with 50% of their net profits going to support pediatric cancer research and families affected by the disease.
The Wild was seeking two young cancer survivors to feature in a video to be shown at the event, and enlisted the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society to help find them.
The Society had Siena’s name because she’s been on their “Honored Hero” list for the past three years, and Siena and dad Ben have spoken at a few events for the LLS.
“She was 10 months old when she was diagnosed,” mom Becky said of Siena’s history with cancer. “She falls under the infant ALL – acute lymphoblastic leukemia – which is very rare.”
Sienna underwent over two years of treatment and follow-up and has been cancer-free for five years.
What happened on the ice
Although Siena is on the other side of her cancer journey, she shared the ice with Lewis, a 7-year-old first grader who is still undergoing treatment.
The two showed up at the Wild’s practice arena in St. Paul on Tuesday, Oct. 1, to watch the team practice before taking their turn inside the boards.
“We met some of the people who worked for Love Your Melon,” Siena said, “and then we got all dressed in my gear, and then I went out to the ice rink, and I met two of the Wild hockey players.”
Forward Marcus Filigno and defenseman Brad Hunt spent about an hour with the kids, first talking to them while the zamboni cleared the ice after practice.
While Hunt helped Lewis, Filigno focused on Siena.
“He told me how he learned to skate,” Siena said. “He took his stick and my stick, and I held onto both sticks and he skated backwards, and I just held on and started skating with him.”
The lesson was appreciated by Siena who hasn’t done much ice skating. Becky was so concerned about her skills she took Siena to Isanti Ice Arena the day before for some last-minute practice.
The cameras rolled while the kids were interviewed about their cancer experiences, and then the players just made sure they had a good time.
“We just practiced skating to get the feel of it,” Siena said, “then we started shooting the pucks into the goal.”
Siena said she enjoyed shooting goals the most and Filigno’s encouragement.
“He said I did pretty good,” she recalled.
After an hour on the ice, Siena said her feet didn’t hurt, but her arms did from holding the stick, and the toughest part was just staying balanced.
“Whenever I tried to shoot I missed, and I almost fell over,” Siena said. “I fell a couple times.”
Watching from the bench with Lewis’ family, Becky had to sit back and let the falls happen.
“I was impressed with how brave she was,” Becky said, “having not skated too many times before and to go out there. She did really well.”
A brave little girl
That bravery was birthed in 2012 when 10-month-old Siena was on vacation in Florida with mom, dad, grandma and 3-year-old sister Avery.
“Siena just wasn’t acting like herself,” Becky said. “She was really lethargic throughout the week.”
Becky’s mom, who is a nurse, thought they should seek medical attention right away, not wait until they got back to Minnesota.
After trying three clinics that wouldn’t accept their out-of-state insurance, they landed at a quick-care place in a strip mall. The doctor there knew what to test for, and after her blood results came back “off the charts” for leukemia, he sent Siena to the children’s hospital in Ft. Myers where she had a blood transfusion and IVs.
Rather than start chemo there, a private jet was sent to bring Becky and Siena back to Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis to begin her treatment there the next day.
She spent the next 144 days in the hospital enduring chemotherapy at less than one year old.
“That was the hardest part with her being so little,” Becky said, “ – pulling on all the cords, putting them in her mouth.”
She spent her first birthday in the hospital, and dad Ben said that when the Minnesota Twins found out the family were fans, TC Bear and a few players came and hung out with them at the hospital.
“She learned to walk and talk in the hospital,” he added.
Long road to recovery
Siena’s two-year course of treatment included a bout with C. diff that put her in intensive care for two weeks and almost killed her. Chemo made her so sick she couldn’t keep food down and had a feeding tube inserted for most of her treatment years. Her soft blond hair fell out.
Gradually the stints in the hospital grew shorter with more time at home where Siena’s parents administered chemo – crushed-up pills they stuffed into her feeding tube.
Her blood tests went from weekly to monthly to every six months, and now she gets blood and heart check-ups once a year. There’s a possibility of heart damage as a side effect of one of her chemo drugs, so her heart will be monitored until she turns 18.
Looking back, Becky said she was sometimes upset the doctors didn’t give them more details about what to expect, but now sees it as a blessing.
“If I would have known all what it would entail for two years,” she said, “it would have been too overwhelming.”
A night to remember
With Siena five years cancer-free and the risk of leukemia recurrence very small, the family – with other daughters Avery, Emma and Tori – can relax and enjoy their free tickets on Tuesday, Oct. 22, as they watch the Wild take on the Edmonton Oilers at Xcel Energy Center – and watch Siena on the Jumbotron in her promo video.
As an honored guest, Siena is invited to sit with the players on the bench or take a ride on the zamboni between periods. And 2,000 fans will receive a free Love Your Melon hat with the Wild logo.
“We love to give back to these organizations that have helped us,” Becky said, adding that when Siena was in the hospital in 2012 – the same year Love Your Melon began – she was one of the first to receive a free hat from the nonprofit.
“It was really big on me,” Siena said, “but now it kind of fits.”
“Love Your Melon” ticket packs start at $79, include limited edition Minnesota Wild/Love Your Melon cuffed beanie, and can be purchased at https://www.nhl.com/wild/tickets/love-your-melon. Beanies available on a first-come, first-serve basis.
• Love Your Melon was incorrectly called a nonprofit. It is an apparel brand dedicated to giving a hat to every child battling cancer, supporting nonprofit organizations who fight against pediatric cancer by giving 50% of net profits to nonprofit partners and the Love Your Melon Fund. Also The LYM beanies given to fans on Oct. 22 are not free, they come with the purchase of the ticket package. Purchase game tickets at Https://www.nhl.com/wild/tickets/love-your-melon.