Year of blessings

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 7:28 AM ET

Jamie Crysdale never looks far for inspiration.

The Calgary Stampeders centre, presented yesterday with the Presidents' Ring Award as the team's emotional leader, finds that spark every day in the eyes of daughter Grace, a cancer survivor at the all-too-tender age of four.

While father Jamie was grimacing through a gruesome 2004 CFL season -- torn pectoral muscles nagging his every move, the team losing miserably -- little Grace was at home battling leukemia.

And it appears she's winning the fight after being diagnosed May 19 of last year. The shocking information arrived, ironically, the same day mom Adrienne Crysdale discovered she was expecting the couple's third child, Annabella Faith, born four months ago.

The good news for Grace is blood tests every week at the Alberta Children's Hospital indicate her disease is in remission. And father Jamie proudly reports his daughter is handling the barrage of tests and chemotherapy better than most adults could.

"Awesome, she's a real trooper," announces the 12-year veteran, feted yesterday at a Stampeders luncheon for his inspirational leadership on and off the field.

"She shows complete resiliency.

"Obviously, when she goes to the hospital to get poked with a needle, that freaks her out completely. Any time they put a needle close to her, she's very apprehensive but when it's over, it's done and she's great again."

Crysdale not only had to struggle with adversity at home but again at McMahon Stadium each day. The team posted just four wins in its third straight season without a playoff berth while Crysdale was facing adversity on every front.

Now, not only are the Stampeders' prospects for 2005 optimistic with a completely revamped organization and a cast of talented free agents set to slip on the Red and White, young Grace's future also appears brighter each day.

"Now she's in what's called the maintenance phase of her treatments," Crysdale explains of the daily liquid chemotherapy treatments he and Adrienne have to administer. "All the chemotherapy she receives is at home and that maintenance phase is two years. Once the kids are diagnosed with leukemia, they start administering the drugs with the goal of getting them into remission within the first 15 days.

"Based on that, they establish your chances of making a full recovery. If they can get you into remission in the first 15 days, then that puts you in the 85th percentile and the longer it takes from there, the lower the percentages go. Grace was in remission after 12 days.

"No matter how long it takes, you still have to run the full two and a half years course of treatments."

Grace Crysdale's fight also inspired her father to volunteer his time with the Kids Cancer Care Foundation of Alberta.

"The reason why I am involved is because of Grace," Crysdale says of the admirable cause.

During yesterday's Presidents' Ring acceptance speech, Crysdale, of course, thanked his wife and teammates for their support and inspiration.

Without them, he aptly points out, he could never have received such accolades.

"It was an interesting year and I'm sure guys voted for me because of the year we had," Crysdale said of the personal turmoil.

"I was able to deal with it and leave it at home and come to the stadium and concentrate on football and not let that emotional tie put me in a vulnerable position as a football player."

But his most heartfelt gratitude and thanks was reserved for Grace.


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