NHL Player Returns to Ice After Battle with Cancer

Now that Brian Boyle's health is in check, he's again lacing up to help the New Jersey Devils win some hockey games

by Tom Joyce | Updated 04 Nov 2017 at 7:26 PM

The 6-foot-6-inch center made his season debut on Wednesday night against the Vancouver Canucks — and although he played for only about 15 minutes and did not score, Brian Boyle was the biggest story of the night.

It was Boyle's first game back since his cancer diagnosis.

"It's been a long road," Boyle told NHL.com before the game. "Just coming on the road was a treat. I was bummed. My two-year-old [son, Declan] went as Batman [for Halloween on Tuesday night]. I missed all of that. He had a blast. Aside from that, I'm pretty excited."

Boyle, 32, was absent from his team's training camp late in the season because he was feeling fatigued — which he said he didn't think about much. Then, on September 19, the Devils announced Boyle was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia, a type of blood-bone marrow cancer. Now, however, it appears as though that is in remission.

Related: Health Report: Why Some Cancers Are Making a Comeback

He returned to practice on October 23 and only requires medication twice a day as treatment: once when he wakes up and again before he goes to bed, according to the Associated Press. Other than that, Boyle is living his life as usual. He signed a two-year, $5 million contract with New Jersey in July, Sports Illustrated reported.

Boyle said he was enamored with the amount of support he received from across the league when his diagnosis was announced.

"It was overwhelming," he said told NHL.com. "It was very touching. Obviously, it's a situation you don't want to be in, but we've got a good handle on it."

Cancer had struck the Boyle family in the past.

Boyle wrote a column for ESPN back in 2014 explaining how his father, Arthur, survived cancer twice and how he was inspired by his father's courage.

Related: Forty Percent of Cancers Are Linked to This Condition

Boyle is on his fifth NHL team in his 11th season and has 169 points (93 goals, 76 assists) in 625 career games.

Despite the setback he faces, he is not letting cancer stop him from adding to those totals. Boyle's comeback surely provides some inspiration to fans of his who are undergoing similar struggles. The same could be said for the handful of athletes who have battled back from the toxic condition. For example, Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Jon Lester battled lymphoma as a rookie in 2006 and went on to be one of the league's premier aces. Lester's teammate, Anthony Rizzo, battled the same type of cancer in 2008 — before he was even in the big leagues. Even this season, baseball had another player make a comeback from cancer.

Boyle's comeback surely provides some inspiration to fans of his who are undergoing similar struggles.

Colorado Rockies starting pitcher Chad Bettis was diagnosed with testicular cancer last December; after finishing up his chemotherapy last May, he was back on the Major League mound in mid-August. In his first outing back from cancer, he pitched seven shutout innings. From there, he went on to make nine starts and worked his way back into his team's rotation.

In recent years, the cancer survival rate has continued to improve. The American Cancer Society reported in 2016 that the survival rate for cancer improved by 23 percent from 1991 to 2012. In years to come, those numbers should only improve.

This will lead to more cancer survival stories and one day, the condition may be eradicated altogether — which is certainly a positive sign. Then no one will have to undergo the pain several millions of Americans, including pro athletes, have endured over the years.

(photo credit, article images: ...New Jersey Devils..., CC BY-SA 2.0, by Doug Kerr)

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