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Doug Christiansen’s Deep Connection with Pancreatic Cancer

Thursday, November 18th
Doug Christiansen’s Deep Connection with Pancreatic Cancer

In early September, Fuel Head Coach Doug Christiansen stood in the lobby of the Little Red Door Cancer Agency. He was there to make a personal donation to the agency that the Fuel have worked closely with for the past two seasons. 

Although the Fuel have worked with The Little Red Door and other cancer-fighting initiatives like Movember and Hockey Fights Cancer, this donation was very personal to Christiansen. Both of his parents passed away from cancer, driving Christiansen to want to give back and help organizations that support others in the same ways his family was supported during their fight.

“When I went to Little Red Door and learned that if you miss a cancer treatment, it’s a 2% difference in your outcome and you’ve got a  50% chance of survival. You miss four treatments, you’re down to 42% and that might just be because it’s snowing outside and nobody can take you and so for an organization like Little Red Door to be able to take away that risk and take away that concern I think is fantastic,” said Christiansen.

While coaching the Belfast Giants, Christiansen’s mother Sheila came to visit and didn’t seem like her normal, endless energy self. Assuming the fatigue and constant nap-taking was due to the jet lag from coming to Belfast, Christiansen’s family didn’t think anything of it. Shortly after returning home from her visit to Belfast, Christiansen’s mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, a cancer with a five-year survival rate of 1 percent. 

“One of my groomsmen’s mothers had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer just a couple of years prior and wound up passing away from it,” said Christiansen. “So unfortunately I knew what the battle was going to be at the time and so that was really tough.”

Following Sheila’s diagnosis, Christiansen and his wife Meghan got married on July 30, 2013. During the reception, Christiansen got the chance to dance with his mother, a feeling of elation that was unfortunately short-lived. After going on his honeymoon, Christiansen went to visit his parents in Wisconsin and realized his father Keith didn’t look like himself. Before returning to Belfast to resume his coaching duties, Christiansen asked his father to go see a doctor. 

It was only about a week later when he received a phone call that shook him to his core. His father was diagnosed with stage-4 pancreatic cancer. Three months to the day of his wedding, Keith passed from pancreatic cancer. 

“He passed away October 20, 2013, and so that was obviously a really, really hard time,” said Christiansen. "Probably the part that was the craziest was my dad’s funeral for pancreatic cancer was on a Saturday and on Tuesday after his funeral I was right back in the same doctors’ offices with my mother, who’s going through the same thing.”

Following his father’s death in 2013, Christiansen’s mother passed away from her own battle with pancreatic cancer in March of 2015. Watching both of his parents pass from the same form of cancer put a massive toll on Christiansen and his brother Jeff. But the toll also brought him and his brother together. 

After coaching overseas, Christiansen took a job with the USHL as the Director of Player Development & Recruitment in order to be closer to his mother during her battle with cancer. Looking back on the move, Christiansen is thankful that he was able to be with his mom and brother during the most difficult time of their lives. 

“Some of those times were great for my brother and I to be together with mom,” said Christiansen. “I’ve said it many times, it was the most purposeful time of my life just being there with my brother and with my mom and you know our last Thanksgivings together, her birthdays, Christmas and all those things that we wouldn’t have had if we weren’t so close and able to come back to be together.”

While serving as a head coach in the UK as well as the ECHL, Christiansen’s teams have been very heavily involved in the Hockey Fights Cancer initiative. An initiative started by the National Hockey League in 1998 that has donated more than $20 million to support the cancer programs of local and national cancer research institutions, children's hospitals, player charities, and local charities.

“The ability to be able to spend more time with your family and be able to have hope is so important,” Christiansen said. “I’m extremely grateful that hockey does such a wonderful job with Hockey Fights Cancer but it’s not just for people like me, it’s for everybody because cancer impacts all of us.”

In his three years with the Indy Fuel, the organization has donated thousands of dollars to different cancer initiatives as well as the Community Health Network Foundation. Christiansen believes that the donations and support from the Fuel shows how much the organization cares about the community and the people within their own organization.

“I think it’s really special and I think it’s really touching that our organization is working with PanCan to be able to help pancreatic cancer patients,” said Christiansen. That makes me feel extremely grateful that the memory of my parents lives on and I’m very fortunate and very grateful for that.”

“I [also] think that we’re able to help in other capacities whether it’s with Movember, or Hockey Fights to help everybody on our team and in our organization who’s been touched by cancer including all of our fans and including people who are in Indianapolis that might not even know the Indy Fuel supports a cause that might be near and dear to them.”

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