SUN Hockey Pool

Burns just keeps battling

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:20 AM ET

He works up a hearty sweat in the gym every morning.

He regularly chunks the ball around the golf course near his residence in Port Charlotte, Fla.

Always the ex-cop, he takes time to ride his bike with a law enforcement motorcycle club known as the Road Dawgs, a group of about 300 strong sprinkled throughout North America.

For a man who has battled two cancer procedures in the past three years, former Maple Leafs coach Pat Burns is well on the road to recovery.

Yet when he talks about his seemingly never-ending scrap with the deadly disease, Burns considers the experience as black-and-white as the spiffy tuxedo he was wearing at the Conn Smythe Sports Celebrities Dinner and Auction in support of Easter Seals Kids at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre last night.

You either fight it to the best or your ability.

Or you die.

"After rounds of radiation you ask, 'is this ever going to be the end or is this the end?' "Burns said.

Diagnosed with colon cancer in 2004, Burns appeared to have whipped the illness until he discovered that it had spread to his liver.

"It's tough but you have to keep going. I wanted to do it on my own. I fought it off twice. Maybe it's the Irish blood in me. I've got to keep the left up and keep swinging with the right."

With the radiation treatments behind him, Burns has attempted to convey his inspirational message to John Ferguson Sr., the father of Leafs general manager John Jr.

"I told him to fight it the first time and now he's battling (cancer) again," Burns said. "It's tough."

Burns would like nothing better than to see the Leafs one day win the Stanley Cup. He still has fond memories of the 1992-93 team that came so close only to lose to the Wayne Gretzky-led Los Angeles Kings in the seventh game of the semi-finals.

Back in December, the likes of Wendel Clark, Doug Gilmour and Dave Andreychuk spearheaded a reunion of that '92-93 Leafs team with Burns being the featured guest. Two months after they congregated in Mats Sundin's private box for a Leafs game, the three former players reunited with Burns as head table guests at the Smythe dinner last night.

While a return to coaching is up in the air, Burns is quick to point out that he is still under contract with the New Jersey Devils, who still find the odd scouting assignment for him.

"The Devils saved my life," he said. "Lou Lamoriello, I owe everything to that guy.

"My operations, my medical issues, my chemotherapy, ended up costing over $1.5 million US. That's a lot of money. If I didn't have medical insurance I wouldn't have been able to pay for that. Chemotherapy alone was $30,000 a month.

"You can't say you are ever out of the woods with this disease, but I'm doing good. (The doctors) like what they see and I like what I see."

So did those patrons who had the opportunity to see Burns last night.


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