TAMPA — As the Lightning's longtime radio voice, Dave Mishkin has called hockey games all over the world, from Pennsylvania to Prague.
But on Feb. 20, Mishkin provided play-by-play from the living room of his Brandon home, where he was needed the most.
His wife, Dulcie, being treated for breast cancer, slept in another room, zapped from another round of chemotherapy. Their terrier mix, Cleo, kept her company. Daughter Madeleine, 9, was at a dance class; son Eli, 10, was with friends. Mishkin sat at a desk a few feet from their 40-inch television, with producer Matt Sammon scrambling to integrate sound from a live feed in Pittsburgh, where the Lightning was facing the Penguins.
Mishkin, 47, called all but one of the Lightning's road playoff games from a Tampa studio, staying close to help his wife in a fight thousands of families face every day. Theirs has a happy ending. Dulcie was declared cancer-free in July after a mastectomy.
Dulcie is thankful for the support of family and friends, including the Lightning, and the treatment from doctors at Florida Cancer Specialists. But as she prepared to participate in Saturday's Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk at Amalie Arena, she stressed the importance of early detection. Getting a mammogram at age 40 saved her life.
"You never think it's going to happen to you," she said. "But believe me, it can. It happened to me."
In a wild way, the Mishkins met because of 9/11.
Dulcie, working for a community theater in Harrisburg, Pa., was scheduled to go on a Florida vacation with friends that weekend. But due to the terrorist attacks, the trip was cancelled. Instead, Dulcie attended the play, The Odd Couple. Dave, then the radio and TV voice of AHL Hershey, played the role of one of the poker buddies. They met at the after party. Their first date was the next week at a waterfront Indian restaurant. Dulcie didn't even like Indian food.
"I knew right away (he was the one)," she said, then joked, "He took a little convincing."
Hershey's season started soon after that; Dave says Dulcie was quickly indoctrinated into the hockey life she'd marry into. Dave spent a lot of time at the rink and on the road, especially after the Lightning hired him in 2002. They got married the following summer, on June 27, 2003, in Hershey, eventually settling in Brandon with Eli and Madeleine.
Dulcie said she didn't know anything about hockey when she met Dave, joking she went to her first game only because a friend offered to buy her a beer. But now she's a fixture at Lightning games, their children often reading books on their Kindles during intermissions.
"It's a huge part of our lives," Dulcie said.
Women are typically recommended to start getting mammograms between the ages of 40 and 45.
Dulcie got hers in January, six months after turning 40. She's glad she didn't wait longer. Her doctor called days later with the results. Irregularities were found. The doctor wanted to do a more detailed diagnostic test in a few weeks.
"Definitely an unsettling feeling," Dave said.
The couple did research, finding that 90 percent of those red-flagged for further screening turned out to have nothing seriously wrong. Dulcie was part of the 10 percent, diagnosed Feb. 5.
"It's surreal," she said. "It's like you're in a cloud bubble above your head."
The hardest part, she and Dave said, was when they told their children that afternoon. Dulcie said it was the only time Dave cried.
"We told them, 'Your mom is going to fight this,' " Dave said. "But still they realized how serious this was."
It was the kind of breast cancer dubbed "triple negative." That meant tumor cells lacked the necessary receptors, so common treatments such as hormone therapy and most drugs are ineffective in treating it. The Mishkins were told Dulcie's cancer was aggressive and in her lymph nodes.
"We kept on getting hit with bad news after bad news after bad news," Dulcie said.
Good news finally arrived 10 days later in a PET scan, which revealed no evidence of the cancer spreading. And the chemotherapy was working.
Dave was still working, too.
With Dulcie's chemotherapy wiping her out so much that she couldn't take care of the kids alone, friends watched them during Lightning home games while Dave was at Amalie Arena. During the day, Dave became Mr. Mom, shuttling the kids around, cleaning the house, and finally doing the laundry. "She used to never let me near the washer," he quipped.
Dave didn't feel comfortable traveling with the Lightning in case Dulcie got sick and needed help. But Dulcie was adamant, not wanting Dave to stop doing his dream job. Dave had missed only three games in his 14 years in the booth, when Eli was born. And thanks to the Lightning, he still called every game last season.
"Cancer had already taken so much away," Dulcie said. "I didn't want it to take that. He was so unbelievable with us throughout this. We needed some sort of normalcy."
Delivering play-by-play off TV was an adventure. Dave's vision was cut in third, at mercy of the network's cameras, compared to his overhead view from the press box. Then there was the broadcast delay, roughly nine seconds behind the live audio feed in his ear. In such a fast-paced sport, that's an eternity. But Dave made due, with the help of Sammon and engineers at the Tampa studio, which delayed the audio to synch with the TV. The only road game Dave went to was the final one, Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final in Pittsburgh.
Said Sammon: "I don't think anybody at home listening could tell the difference."
Dave was grateful that broadcasters from other NHL teams were able to help him prepare for games via phone calls. Legendary NBC play-by-play man Mike Emrick lighted a prayer candle for Dulcie at every stop in the playoffs and text messaged a photo to Dave. "We miss you," he said. Lightning owner Jeff Vinik called and checked in.
Dulcie had her own support group, bonding with other patients she dubs her "Pixi Sisters." They'll join her at Saturday's walk, the team having raised $7,000 as of Thursday. A mental turning point for Dulcie was when a nurse suggested she make a big post-recovery plan, something to look forward to. She always had dreamed about going to Paris, so the family is heading there in the offseason.
But first, they hope, is another Stanley Cup playoff run. The Lightning hit the road Friday for a six-game, 11-day road trip through Canada and New York, and Dave is on it. Dulcie is back in her stay-at-home-mom role, juggling Madeleine's dance classes and Eli's piano lessons.
Life for the Mishkins is back to normal. Finally.
Joe Smith can be reached at [email protected] Follow @TBTimes_JSmith.