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Ulmer Can Relate To What Jason Blake Is Going Through

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
This is how it works.

You are minding your own business, inundated by life.

Maybe you feel something. For me it was a bump. For Jason Blake and Mario Lemieux it was a little fatigue. For Terry Fox it was a sore leg that he considered a leftover from basketball. For a good friend it was a pressure in her stomach that the doctors kept sloughing off.

Having cancer means including yourself in a sentence with Terry Fox or with a superstar athlete, with prime ministers and commissionaires.

Cancer puts everyone on the same footing. We all sit in the same lines. Stunned into virtual senselessness, everyone relies on their spouses to keep track when their minds carry them elsewhere during briefings with doctors.

Absolute boredom punctuated by moments of panic. That feeling has been ascribed to the soldier in combat and likewise the person with cancer. I can think of none better.

The cancers, of course, vary wildly. Chronic myelogenous leukemia sounds imminently treatable. But that the ‘magic bullet’, the one described happily by Blake as the key to his continued good health, was available to all.

What kind of cancer, the stage of its advancement, the array of weapons to battle it and not unimportantly, the marrow-deep desire of the sick person to stay alive, all these things determined the fortunes of Mario Lemieux, Saku Koivu, Terry Fox, my grandfather, and probably yours.

But the word cancer washes away degrees, factors, details. We all know people who have gotten cancer and died. The commissioner of the league that employs Jason Blake lost both his parents to the disease. Naturally, then, when we hear cancer we assume the worst.

Having cancer means vainly trying to convince a parent who has lost sisters and parents to cancer that you will not go that way.

To know cancer is to fear it. To really know it is to understand its shadings and degrees.

What needs to be said, what has been said by Jason Blake, is that cancer is no longer a death sentence. Most people who get cancer survive, just as I did, just as Lemieux and Koivu did, just as I fervently believe my friend will. The children who contract the same cancer that killed Terry Fox now routinely keep their legs, let alone their lives.

People with Cancer understand this. They quickly move past the shock to the drudgery that is getting well, or being rendered sick before they can get better.

The toughest part of cancer isn’t usually the disease. It is routinely painless. The agony is in the concern for loved ones. Thoughts of his child, not concern for himself, drew tears from Jason Blake, Monday.

Getting cancer means letting everyone know what’s going on, keeping everyone jolly and when you can, finding a little time for yourself.

It is the most intensely personal yet awkwardly public of acts. It is a perilous journey, but not an uncommon one. I am no more able to help or illuminate Jason Blake than you.

Like you, I can only sincerely wish him safe passage.
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