I had been waiting for it.
For ten years, I had been tracking my Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) levels. As a medical professional, I knew I needed to be proactive since my father had prostate cancer.
So, when I reported to the team's physical in September 2018 and found out that my PSA level was high, I wasn't that surprised.
"Here we go," I said to myself.
With the LA Kings training camp just beginning, my priority was to put the team first and ensure they were ready for the season. There is never a good time for a health scare, but this certainly wasn't ideal.
Dr. Mellman, the Team Internist, recommended I take a couple weeks of antibiotics to see if the levels would balance out. So, I continued on as normal, and began the season as we waited patiently for the results.
When it came time to do blood work again, I was disappointed to learn my PSA was exactly the same as it was six weeks ago: 5.85.
A normal number is somewhere between zero to four, so I was referred to Dr. Tomasic in advanced urology at UCLA for further testing. Even though I didn't have any symptoms, he decided to take a biopsy to be on the cautious side.
While we waited, I went on the road and tried to stay busy, keeping this news to myself.
A week later, my wife and I were back in Dr. Tomasic's office, awaiting the results. After he walked in the room, I barely had enough time to introduce him to my wife before he blurted out the big 'C' word.
"Chris - we have to deal with some cancer," he said.
I felt a lump forming in my throat as I looked over at my wife, who was starting to tear up.
"It's early," Dr. Tomasic continued to say. "I feel really good about it."
Early is good. However, I couldn't help but think back to the wrath that cancer had wreaked on those I loved. My mother had passed away from it; my dad knew the battle I was about to undertake all too well.
If you know me, you know that I wanted to tackle this head on and move forward as quickly as possible. I spoke to three of the best doctors in Los Angeles, who all recommended I have surgery.
I was fortunate to schedule a meeting with the highly sought-after Dr. Desai in the Urology Department at Keck School of Medicine. We decided I would undergo surgery on December 11th.
With an extended recovery time after surgery, I knew I needed to confide in Kings General Manager Rob Blake. He had a lot going on and I didn't want to be a distraction, but in the end, he couldn't have been more supportive.
"This is bigger than hockey," he told me. "We're going to get the team together and we're going to huddle up, so you can share the news with them."
Addressing the team was one of the hardest things I've ever done. I've been with some of the guys a long time and I'll never forget the look on some of their faces.
But after I was done speaking, every single one of them came up and hugged me, and I felt an immediate weight lifted off my shoulders. I knew I could handle this with their support.
When December 11th finally came around, it was an early start, but I didn't mind. I was used to getting up early to be at the rink before the team. I arrived at the hospital at 5:00 a.m., filled out my paperwork and had my vitals checked. I crawled into the warm hospital bed before the anesthesiologist came to greet me.
"I'm not leaving your side," she said, trying to comfort me. "You'll see me when you go to sleep, and you'll see me when you wake up."
"Boy…I hope that's true," I said, half-joking.
Six hours later, the anesthesiologist was right. Still in a haze, I woke up and immediately asked my wife and my daughter how the surgery went. That's when my wife said the four words I had been waiting to hear.
"You're surgically cancer-free."
I must've asked that same question about six times, because it just wasn't registering with me. That, or they gave me some really good anesthesia… one of the two.
After a long recovery period, where I was mostly bed-ridden and missed about 20 games, I am happy to be working full-time again and back to 'normal.'
I'm sharing my story with you because I want to be an advocate for men's health. Prostate cancer can happen to any man - you, your dad, brother or son are not invincible.
Awareness and prevention are the keys. I had just come off one of the healthiest summer's in my career and had been taking care of myself when I was diagnosed. Had I not gone to my annual physical, I may not be here with you today.
Shortly after hearing about my diagnosis, my brother went to get his PSA levels checked. Turns out, he also had high levels and was diagnosed with prostate cancer shortly after. His surgery was completed in August of 2019 and I'm happy to report he's doing well.
As for me, I've had normal follow up tests, which happen every three months. My fourth one was December 11 - fittingly, a full 365 days after my surgery.
This November, I am proud to support the Movember initiative. I've been working in hockey for 22 years now, and if you can believe it, I've never had facial hair. But I couldn't think of a better reason to start growing a mustache and raise awareness.
My father has had a pretty impressive mustache for the 50 years I've been alive, so it's pretty cool that this time of year we can both rock our 'staches and stand together in support of a cause close to our hearts.
I'll also be standing in unison with the players and fans, with our collective goal… to fight cancer.