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Oilers' Davidson details comeback from cancer

by Derek Van Diest

EDMONTON -- Brandon Davidson was preparing to fight for a spot with the Edmonton Oilers' American Hockey League affiliate in Oklahoma City when a bigger battle was presented to him.

Heading into his first year of professional hockey, the defenseman was diagnosed with testicular cancer, putting his career in jeopardy.

"I was diagnosed Oct. 1, 2012," Davidson said prior to the Oilers hosting Hockey Fights Cancer night Friday against the Washington Capitals. "I felt some symptoms come on, and basically through the physicals that we do as a team every year, we were able to identify it. Within two days of Oct. 1 I was on the operating table."

Davidson, 24, who was in the AHL at the time, had surgery at the Peggy and Charles Stephenson Cancer Center in Oklahoma City. He then had a month of aggressive chemotherapy treatments.

"As soon as I could recover from surgery three weeks later, I started chemotherapy," Davidson said. "I did just over a month of chemotherapy. I got injected every single day and did two doses a day. It would have taken me two months, but I opted out and did it in a month, just so I could get back to the game a little quicker and to get over it a little quicker."

The cancer diagnosis came as a shock to Davidson, who was selected by the Oilers in the sixth round (No. 162) of the 2010 NHL Draft. The Lethbridge, Alberta, native graduated from Regina of the Western Hockey League a few months earlier and was looking forward to his professional career.

"I was scared, I didn't know much about it, that was the big thing," Davidson said. "I was just unaware and uneducated on it. Once I realized, with the doctor's help, that it was a treatable condition and it was something that we could take care of, that put my mind a little bit at ease. We were able to come up with a plan and talked about what would happen and how likely the chance of it coming back were. The chances were higher than most, I think it was about 62 percent, the chances of it coming back.

"That was kind of scary, getting through that, but once we had a plan set down, I was able to look at it, see what was going to happen, and I started thinking that I could get over it and get back to my life."

Davidson approached his battle with cancer with the same attitude he does toward hockey. After developing a game plan, he went about executing it as best he could with the help of his family, teammates and the Oilers organization.

"It was tough, but I was able to have my family and my girlfriend take care of me," Davidson said. "After surgery, I was in pretty rough shape and I was in a lot of pain. Chemotherapy was very tough. I didn't think it would affect me as much as it did, and I believe that was the toughest thing I've ever done. To this day, it still makes me sick thinking about it. I only did it for a month and I can't imagine the people that do it for years. My heart goes out to them."

Once free of cancer, Davidson began the long road back to hockey, intent of making it to the NHL. When diagnosed, Davidson believed his hockey career could be over.

"Initially, that was one of the thoughts that crossed my mind," he said. "But after finding the facts out and getting educated, I was able to see that it was going to take me four months to get back and I could look down the road. I was very disappointed, because it was my first year pro. I wanted to make a good impression, I didn't want to be caught behind the eight ball. So it put a lot of pressure on me and a little bit of anxiety as well. So it was kind of tough handling things that way."

Davidson was able to return before the end of the 2012-13 season and began his comeback with Stockton in the ECHL. He played 11 games and had seven goals and five assists.

Davidson was then sent to Oklahoma City, where he playing 26 games, scoring two goals with three assists.

"Hockey has always been my outlet in life and I feel like I can express myself and let everything out, my emotions and things like that," Davidson said. "I felt it was a good way for me to transition. I was able to build off of that and move forward as a person and especially as a hockey player too. That helped me through a lot of things. It was hockey, but it was more than that."

Davidson spent the majority of the past two seasons in Oklahoma City before making the Oilers out of training camp this season. He is fully supportive of the Hockey Fights Cancer initiative founded by the NHL in 1998 and has become a proponent of early testing.

"I preach it all the time to people," he said. "Once things happened with me, both my brothers and my dad got checked right away. I think it is kind of in the dark, knowledge-wise, people aren't aware and if I can make that knowledge known in any way possible, that's what I want to do."

Through the experience, Davidson said he believes he is a better person and more appreciative of being able to play in the NHL with the Oilers.

"I definitely look back on that, it was a big learning curve and a big change in my life." Davidson said. "I think it made me realize the importance of hockey to me and my family and it's kind of put everything in perspective. It's kind of made me a better person and it's made me work harder and that's why I'm here today. I think as long as I remember those things, I'll be able to have success."

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