Blake joins fighting family

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 7:02 AM ET

As of yesterday, Jason Blake became a member of the family.

Someone for us to care about. Someone for us to cheer for. Someone to provide us with hope.

A member of the family. The cancer family.

Almost everyone I know is somehow connected. Almost everyone I know has a story to tell, an experience that matters.

A connection to this dreadful disease. Maybe it's through their mom. Maybe it's through their wife. Maybe it's through the man across the street. Maybe it's through the little kid you coached in minor hockey.

Maybe it's through all of them. It's forever personal.

Cancer doesn't discriminate: It takes on the big and the small, the young and the old, the rich and the poor, the star athletes you've heard of and the weekend athletes whose names you'll never know.

FIGHT

And now we connect with Jason Blake, the newest and blondest and most talked about Maple Leaf, because this is what people do when those around us have battles to fight. We fight with them. We get involved. We support. We roll up our sleeves. We get afraid but more than anything, we care.

And we need to care.

Cancer doesn't discriminate: Jason Blake's career didn't come easily to him. He played some junior hockey in Iowa of all places, went to Ferris State to begin his college hockey career, sat out a year, transferred to North Dakota, played for the Orlando Solar Bears and the Long Beach Ice Dogs and the Lowell Loch Monsters and was a five-goal scorer as a 26-year-old rookie with the Los Angeles Kings.

He was small in more ways than one. He scored four goals his first season with the New York Islanders and eight to celebrate his upcoming 29th birthday and his sophomore year.

He became an overnight sensation at 30, a 40-goal scorer at the age of 33. Now, he's at the beginning of a five-year $20-million contract for a kid who didn't grow up in Moorhead, Minn. dreaming of being a Maple Leaf.

And now this: His eyes are puffy. His voice is tired. He looks like he needs a night of sleep. He is listed as 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds and someone clearly has a vivid imagination with that. And he has a rare form of leukemia.

Treatable, doctors say. The doctors themselves don't have to practice every morning or play every second night in the National Hockey League with who knows what kind of side effects taking their toll. The one thing you do know from Blake's career is this: He won't give up. He didn't when he was going nowhere. He won't now.

If there is anything remarkable about a disease that takes lives and changes lives, it's how much fight people have in them. How much inspiration the apparently ill can provide for those who are not.

I lost my dad to lung cancer. He knew he was running out of time from the minute they told him. He lived the final months of his life, celebrating every day, celebrating the people around him, surrounded by friends and family and anyone he could talk to, sing with, have a laugh.

My wife lost her dad to lung cancer. He was told he had a year to live and lived for only 20 more.

He was a surgeon, paralyzed from the waist down from cancer radiation treatments, and from his wheelchair went to work every day, replacing his surgery with a general practice.

Those men -- like so many others -- were heroes. The strength of those who are gone -- your friends, relatives, neighbours, parents -- and the strength of those who have fought and won and live to tell their tales remains ever inspiring.

It is all about attitude. It is all about believing. It is all about approach. The public can be inspired by the Lance Armstrongs, the Mario Lemieuxs the Saku Koivus of the sporting world and now up close we can be inspired -- and hope at the same time to inspire -- Jason Blake.

It's the least we can do.

He is, after all, part of the family.


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