August 6-21, 2022
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by: Bill Potrecz, BP Sports Niagara

#DoItForBen: Team BC & lacrosse teams from across Canada rally to support Ben Pawluk’s fight against cancer

When Ben Pawluk went to the dentist in May for a problem with his teeth, he wasn’t particularly concerned.  

“All my teeth became loose and I just started not to feel good,” the 17-year-old native of Victoria, B.C., said. “I went back to the dentist a few times and went to the hospital in Victoria for a few weeks and they couldn’t figure out what was wrong.

“I just thought there was something wrong with my teeth.” 

At first, it was thought the problem stemmed from nerve damage but Pawluk was also starting to have a problem walking.

A couple of weeks later Pawluk fainted on the way to a lacrosse game and concern began to grow.

“We started to see his health deteriorate,” mom Anita Pawluk said.

The following week Ben Pawluk was admitted to Victoria General Hospital. He was sleeping almost non-stop, couldn’t eat, and was having a hard time moving.  He spent two weeks in hospital and cancer was quickly ruled out. Doctors instead thought it might be some type of infectious disease.

Finally, a dental team at the hospital did a biopsy in his mouth and informed Ben Pawluk he had Stage 4 Burkitt’s lymphoma, a blood cancer where the bone marrow and central nervous system are often involved. 

His diagnosis meant that he couldn’t attend the 2022 Canada Games in the Niagara Region as a member of Team British Columbia, something that he had long been vying for.

“It was a pretty big shock when the doctor told us. We weren’t expecting that at all,” Ben Pawluk said. 

That was on June 25. Two days later he was airlifted to Vancouver General Hospital where he spent eight weeks undergoing two rounds of chemotherapy.

Ben Pawluk finally came home last week for seven days, but Thursday was back in hospital for round three of chemo. He has lost 40 pounds but insists the treatment isn’t too bad.

“I felt sick and was throwing up and it makes you super tired and not want to do anything,” he said. “You definitely have good days and bad days.”

While Ben Pawluk was receiving treatment Thursday, his teammates on the Team B.C. men’s lacrosse team were tying Team Alberta 3-3 at the Niagara 2022 Canada Summer Games, all the while keeping their ailing friend in their thoughts.

Over the second week of competition at the 2022 Canada Games, Ben Pawluk has never been too far removed from his teammates, with his jersey hanging constantly found hanging behind the team's bench (Credit: Howie Adams / 2022 Canada Games).

“I’m his best friend. It’s terrible. For me and all his friends at school and especially his family, it’s hard to see a kid go through this, especially at such a young age,” Team B.C. captain Luca Pavetta said. “Cancer is a terrible thing.

“Everybody is praying for him back home and even here it’s amazing to see what the sports community and lacrosse community does for a kid that sick.”

Pavetta and Ben Pawluk have been buddies since childhood.

“When I’m out on the floor I’m playing for him and keeping him in mind. That’s what keeps you going,” Pavetta said.

Team B.C. has taken its support a step further, hanging two of Pawluk’s jerseys behind the bench for each game and getting their opponents to sign them with words of encouragement. 

“We’re giving him lots of love and support so he can fight this and get through it after his treatment,” Team B.C. coach Grant Hamilton said. “He knows what’s happening. We talked to his parents about giving him some encouragement. We’re all thinking about him and playing for him.”

Hamilton appreciates the response of the other teams who have been quick to respond to the request. 

“We want all teams we are playing to sign it and want to be able to present it to him that everyone didn’t forget him, regardless of what happens here,” Hamilton said. “The response has been awesome."

Prior to Team BC's game on Wednesday, all members of the opposing Nova Scotia team took the time to leave a message of support on Pawluk's jersey — something that all teams have been doing throughout the week (Credit: Team Nova Scotia / Twitter).

Team Ontario coach John Rosa said when someone in the lacrosse community is in need, then all of the lacrosse community is in need.

“Anytime there’s anything going on with any lacrosse player in the community, we’re together in a group,” he said. “We play on different teams but we’re all together as lacrosse players.

“As soon as they came and asked us and told us what was going on, (we said) absolutely we’ll sign the jersey before the game and do whatever you want us to do. It’s a great thing.”

Hamilton said the situation has been a reality check.

“It puts things in perspective about what’s really important in life,” he said. “It is about the love for your friends and family. A lot of these players are close to him and it’s kind of thrown everybody for a loop.

“We’re just focusing on gaining strength from that. We know Ben would want us to win and play for him and play hard. That’s just the type of guy he is.” 

Ben Pawluck said the support has been amazing. 

“It means a lot. I saw all the posts,” he said. “All my friends and family have been super supportive to help us deal with it.”

Anita Pawluk said Ben’s father Dan Pawluk and his sister Nicola Pawluk have leaned on each other for encouragement through the ordeal.

“We’ve been very supportive of each other which has helped all of us get through this,” she said.

But Anita said it’s Ben himself who has provided the most inspiration.

“His strength and courage definitely kept myself and his dad and sister going at times,” he said. “He’s a very, very strong young man.”

Ben Pawluk said there’s no doubt in his mind he will be back on the lacrosse floor at some point.

“I’m super determined to get back playing,” he said.

Anita Pawluk left no doubt her son would beat cancer.

“The word we use is belief,” she said. “We know for a fact he is going to make it through this and look forward to seeing him on the court again with those boys, that amazing community. We can’t wait to get back with them.”

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