MONTREAL - They say sometimes sports can save lives. In Brandon Davidson's case, the proof is in the pudding.
Five years ago, when he was 21 years old, doctors discovered a lump on Davidson's body during Oklahoma City Barons team physicals, later diagnosing it as testicular cancer.
The news hit the rearguard like a freight train, especially considering he had no symptoms - no inkling, even - that anything was afoot. Davidson came into training camp thinking he was in peak physical condition; how could he have prepared for what was to come?
"It was tough. There were a lot of tears, a lot of questions in my mind," he recalled. "It was a surprise more than anything. I didn't really have any indications of what was going on until that exam. It was a blessing that I had that physical."
Doctors quickly explained that the cancer was curable and - almost just as quickly - got Davidson on the operating table.
"They took the tumor out immediately. Then I did radiation treatments and 30 days after the surgery, I started chemotherapy. I did two rounds in a month. I knew right away the cancer was curable and that I was going to get through it," recounted Davidson. "There were some tough days at the start, tougher than most, but after the chemotherapy was over I started to feel better."
As a result of the treatments, the defenseman lost 25 pounds. He was in for a long, uphill battle, but was able to count on the support of his family and the entire Edmonton Oilers organization - who covered the cost of his treatments at the Peggy and Charles Cancer Center - to get him there.
"It's a pretty renowned cancer center," he explained. "We discussed with the hockey team and the medical staff where the best place to succeed would be, and it happened to be right there in Oklahoma City - another blessing in disguise."
Davidson didn't waste any time getting back on the ice. Just two and a half months after his treatments were done, he went to play a few games in the ECHL before being called back up to the AHL. In all, he only missed four months of action.
"It was a scary time in my life. It was a good thing that I had such a good organization behind me, and a really good group of guys behind me as well. My motivation level was higher than it ever was, because I had a new outlook on life," admitted the Lethbridge, AB native, who celebrated his 26th birthday on August 21. "I really thought this was a calling for me.
"It was a really tough time in my life, but I think a guy changes and learns things from it. When you fall, you get back up and keep moving forward. That was my theory behind it," he continued. "It seemed to have benefitted me. I take the positives out of all the negative that happened and I ran with it."
The life-altering experience certainly had the effect of transforming Davidson into a new man.
"After the chemotherapy was over and I started to feel better, I really felt like there was a different way about me, a different person in me. Life is short, I thought. You realize there are more important things in your life. You have goals and dreams, and I realized what I really wanted out of life," outlined Davidson. "That was the motivation I needed. I basically changed the way I was thinking. It boosted me into this other person, and it's changed me in such a way that I've started seeing positives instead of negatives."
Davidson brought his new outlook on life onto the ice and into his workouts. He was motivated to work harder than he ever had, all while recognizing the role his sport played in detecting the disease.
"I know that not being in hockey, it could have been a bigger issue. The fact we found it so quickly because of these medicals we do, changed the amount of time and the process it took," he acknowledged. "If it weren't discovered as quickly, it could've been a different story. I'm extremely grateful to hockey."
In remission for five years now, Davidson undergoes a yearly test so his doctors can keep an eye on things. But while the ordeal may be behind him, the worry never fully goes away.
"Even years after, there's a percentage chance that it could come back. That's always stuck in the back of my mind, and that's why the thought process is the way it is. You only live once, and I'm going to try to make the most of it no matter what happens," he concluded. "I turned that fear into motivation and maybe a bit of anger as well, which only pushed me harder."
Brandon Davidson is leading the Montreal Canadiens' Movember Team initiative for 2017-18. To join Brandon and his Habs Mo' Bros, or to make a donation to help make a difference in men's health, visit the team's Movember page.