themighty logo

Dear Bryan Bickell, From a Chronically Ill Hockey Fan

I think it’s important for chronically ill/disabled people to have their hobbies. Their happy place where they can go and try and forget about all of the medical messes in their lives when they get to be too much. In my life, I have been lucky enough to find hockey as my place.

The pace of the game enraptures you, draws you in and leaves you wanting more. The advanced stats are interesting to research, and are fun to look in to when there are no games on and I want something to do. The players all seem kind and genuine. I’ve met a few, and they have always thanked me, even before I could thank them, for some reason. (Don’t worry, I still thank them.) And the players are a community.

Bryan Bickell is a player that I always adored. He played with the Chicago Blackhawks for many years before being traded to the Carolina Hurricanes last off-season and advocates for “bully breed” dogs. He smiles a lot in interviews, and seems like a contagiously happy guy.

In November, he and the Carolina Hurricanes announced that he was being placed on long term injured reserve after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). I do not have MS, but with chronic illness/disease, the community can come together and commiserate together, even though our illnesses and diseases are not the same. My heart broke for him.

I waited for updates on him, hoping that with treatment, he might still be able to play the game that he loved so much. In January, he started practicing again. He returned to a roster (as a healthy scratch) in February in the minor leagues. On April 5th, he rejoined the Carolina Hurricanes.

On April 7th, he broke down in an interview when asked about his future in hockey and wouldn’t say much, saying that he hadn’t spoken about it to his teammates. The next day, April 8th, at a walk for MS, his entire team surprised him to walk with him. Later, he announced his retirement before his second to last game of his career.

April 9th was the last hockey game of his career. He got an opportunity in the shoot out, and he scored. You could see his teammates trying to contain themselves. Trying not to jump off the bench, trying not to get on the ice and fall on top of him. They were so excited for him. For that one shot, for it to go in on his last shot of his career. It hit the post, and I wasn’t there, but maybe to them it sounded like the loudest ring. It sounded like it to me, just through my TV. The Hurricanes, and the fans, knew and understood that Bryan Bickell dedicated his life to hockey but thanks to a chronic disease, had to retire.

He didn’t broadcast his diagnosis or treatment to the world, but he never hid it either. My friends who watch hockey came to me, asking about it because I tend to know more about illnesses about them. People have started donating to MS initiatives, and Bryan and his wife have even started up a new one themselves apparently. They have a foundation that advocates for “bully breeds” as a mentioned previously, and they’re now building on that foundation and adding an initiative to help people with MS and other diseases get service dogs.

Bryan Bickell had to give up playing hockey, which was his dream. Many of us did, and my heart breaks for him. I don’t know exactly how it feels, as none of us experience situations the same. But I want to thank him for all that he has done. Helping bring two Stanley Cups to Chicago, even when he was fighting symptoms, before he had been diagnosed. Thank you for being honest about what you are going through. Thank you for all the smiles over the seasons.

Illnesses, diseases, and disabilities can take a lot away from us, up to and including our dream careers. But they can never take away the person we are.

So, maybe most importantly, thank you, Bicks, for being someone who this chronically ill person can to look up to.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

Photo courtesy of Hokej a vše kolem něj via Facebook