Fighting again to return to the ice

Wade MacLeod loves the view from the Port Moody condo he shares with his wife, Karly, and their 17-month-old daughter, Ava James.

Looking out the expansive windows of their living room to Burnaby Mountain, the snow-peaked mountains in the distance and the twinkling water of Burrard Inlet far below is theraputic, MacLeod says. But it’s not where he should be in the waning weeks of winter.

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MacLeod and his young family were supposed to be back in Germany, where the 32 year-old Burnaby Winter Club alumnus was looking to build on the point-a-game pace he was scoring last year as a professional hockey player with the Frankfurt Lions.

But two surgeries within two months last summer to remove a Grade 3 Glioblastoma tumour in his brain, that reappeared for a third time, derailed that dream.

MacLeod hopes of getting his playing career back on track have been fuelled by optimism after the results of his latest MRI that showed no further growth of the disease.

In fact, it’s that’s positive outlook that helped get MacLeod back on the ice after two previous cancer diagnoses, said Karly.

“No matter how many times he’s knocked down, he’ll get up again and go for it,” she said.

MacLeod’s tumour was first diagnosed after he collapsed on the ice during a game in Springfield, Mass., where he was playing his second season as a pro after competing for four years with Norheastern University in Boston. Doctors removed a golf-ball sized non-cancerous tumour from the left side of his brain, with the ensuing affliction robbing him of the ability to speak.

Speech therapy got that back, and extensive rehab allowed MacLeod to return to the ice, this time with a team in the ECHL, a rung down hockey’s minor-professional ladder. He knocked around various outposts, from Indiana to Idaho, including a 34-game stint with the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League, just below the NHL, before heading to Germany.

It was after a 61-point season with the Rosenheim Star Bulls, a German second-division pro team, that the disease reasserted itself. MacLeod underwent a second surgery in September, 2016, then worked his way back to the ice the following March, with another ECHL in Allen, Texas. He scored 13 points in 13 games, and, in September, 2017, he signed with Frankfurt.

Going back to Germany, this time to Dresden with their newborn daughter, was supposed to be the time of their lives, Karly said. “Then everything changed.”

MacLeod took the latest diagnosis in stride.

“It is what it is,” he said, then set about doing whatever he had to do to get better again and return to the ice.

Currently in the midst of a six-month course of chemotherapy treatment, MacLeod hooked up with Port Moody Integrated Health to plot a holistic path back to health that includes speech therapy — last summer’s operations again affected his ability to speak — occupational and physical therapy. He changed his diet to eliminate refined sugar and reduce his intake of carbohydrates. Several times a week he gets special hyperthermia treatment that tries to kill cancer cells with high temperatures.

Both Wade and Karly visit with a sports psychologist to deal with the mental and emotional challenges of the disease.

A fundraising campaign launched on the crowdsourcing website gofundme.com last August by MacLeod’s friend, Mike Armstong, has raised more than $124,000 so far, making much of the supplementary care possible after the Dresden team cut his contract following his diagnosis.

More importantly, MacLeod said,were the messages of support that continue to be posted on the site from every waystation on his journey through hockey, even as far back as his minor days at the Burnaby Winter Club, and from Merritt where he played for the BC Hockey League’s Centennials.

“It drives my strength and positivity more than you can imagine,” MacLeod said, adding his whole family was brought to tears when they first started seeing the donations and messages come in as he recovered from his fourth surgery.

While some treatment days can be long and gruelling, sapping MacLeod’s strength and confining him to the couch to take in the view from a special massage pad Karly got him for Christmas, he said he’s been able to gain a new appreciation for life’s small moments, like playing catch with his daughter (“She has a wicked spiral,” he said), or the beauty around him during walks along the Shoreline trail.

MacLeod was last on the ice in December, at a stick-and-puck session with his brother and brother-in-law. He said the feeling of holding the stick in his hands, gliding around the ice, chasing down the puck, was “unbelieveable.”

He can’t wait to get that feeling back. Again.

• To donate to the GoFundMe campaign to help Wade MacLeod, go to https://www.gofundme.com/wade039s-treatment-fund.

 

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