Cancer survivor Brock Chessell meets Toronto Maple Leafs

On a cold November morning at his home in St. Marys, Brock Chessell sits at the kitchen table and washes down a multi-coloured concoction of vitamins, calcium, immunosuppressants and blood pressure pills.

brock chesselChessell takes 10 each day – down from 40 he was once prescribed – and he’s tired. It’s been a busy week for the 13 year old in remission from a rare liver cancer that almost took his life two years ago.

Chessell practised with his St. Marys Rock bantam BB teammates and went trick-or-treating last Thursday. He was in Toronto two days earlier hanging out with Maple Leafs’ star and former London Knight Mitch Marner, and Leafs’ head coach Mike Babcock, before watching his favourite team take on the Washington Capitals.

Chessell was a guest of Air Canada’s Fan Flight program, which recognizes youth making a mark in their communities. In January, he’ll fly to Florida with his family to watch the Leafs play the Panthers as part of the program.

All of it was a surprise to Chessell, who was confused when Leafs’ mascot Carlton the Bear showed up at his house a few weeks ago.

“I just saw Carlton in the driveway and I thought, ‘What is going on?’” he said. “It was really crazy.

Babcock delivered the good news in a video, and the two met last week and talked about faceoffs and other facets of a game that helped keep Chessell alive during the most challenging year of his life.

“(Hockey) takes away everything and puts joy into my heart and brain for a little bit,” he said. “It’s just the best.”

Chessell also met Marner, and he thanked the Leafs’ forward for a signed stick he received at a game last season. Part of their conversation focused on Hayden Foulon, a seven-year-old girl Marner grew close to during his time with the Knights. Chessell also knew Foulon from their time together at the hospital, but Foulon passed away last month after a battle with leukemia.

“Everyone I’ve met is awesome, and I’m so thankful for them,” Chessell said.

It was mostly an evening for Chessell to escape a reality that has changed since April 2017. He was 11 at the time, and his mom Julie – a nurse in Stratford – took him to a doctor when she noticed her son losing weight.

They figured some protein shakes would do the trick, but Chessell was diagnosed with stage 4 hepatoblastoma, an uncommon liver cancer usually diagnosed during the first three years of a child’s life.

“It took my world away,” he said. “I couldn’t play hockey. I didn’t really understand what was going on because I was young. I knew something was up because I was in the hospital all the time. It took a lot away from me and still (does). I’m not the way I was. I’m tired a lot playing hockey. It was probably the worst year of my life.”

Chessell endured 16 rounds of chemotherapy and multiple surgeries, including a 13-hour liver transplant that ultimately saved his life.

“We knew where we were going to bury him,” Julie Chessell said.

Brock Chessell was defiant, and he vowed to beat the disease. He was discharged from Sick Kids Hospital nine days after his transplant, which beat the previous record for transplant recipients by a day, and he was on the ice 10 weeks later.

“I just wanted to get back to hockey,” he said. “I was afraid of dying. Now I’m just happy I’m not sick. I’m not really afraid of dying anymore after what I went through.”

The Grade 8 student at Holy Name of Mary Catholic School now advocates on behalf of kids with cancer. He speaks at events and encourages people to donate to children’s hospitals and foundations and sign donor cards. He wants to be a transplant surgeon.

“For him, even though it’s a sad story initially, his timeline was really quick,” Julie Chessell said. “A lot of stuff happened in a short amount of time. His fight, his determination, his resiliency is what I think draws people to him.”

More than 18 months after his initial diagnosis, Brock Chessell has inspired the hockey community. He’s met and received support from multiple NHLers, including fellow cancer survivor Phil Kessel, and he has enough signed memorabilia to fill a basement.

But it’s come at a cost. Chemotherapy made his skin sensitive, and he isn’t supposed to spend much time in the sun. He no longer likes oatmeal, bananas and certain vegetables – foods he ate regularly before the punishing cancer-fighting treatment.

Subsequent surgeries after the transplant wiped out progress in his recovery, but it didn’t stop him from postponing an operation in the spring so he could help his team win an Ontario Minor Hockey Association title.

Brock Chessell is wearing the championship hat on this cold November morning, a reminder of the good things that have happened in a childhood tainted by turmoil.

“He looks normal,” Julie Chessell said. “You would never know he had cancer. His hair is back, and you can’t see the scars from his transplant, but he knows that he’s not where he was before, and he remembers what it was like before he was sick, and that’s tough.

“He’s alive, and we’re so thankful for that. That’s the main goal, to keep him healthy and alive. But for a 13-year-old boy who just wants to play hockey and baseball, his world shattered, and that’s frustrating for him.

“It rocked our world, and our journey followed from there.”

Babcock delivered the good news in a video, and the two met last week and talked about faceoffs and other facets of a game that helped keep Chessell alive during the most challenging year of his life.

“(Hockey) takes away everything and puts joy into my heart and brain for a little bit,” he said. “It’s just the best.”

Chessell also met Marner, and he thanked the Leafs’ forward for a signed stick he received at a game last season. Part of their conversation focused on Hayden Foulon, a seven-year-old girl Marner grew close to during his time with the Knights. Chessell also knew Foulon from their time together at the hospital, but Foulon passed away last month after a battle with leukemia.

“Everyone I’ve met is awesome, and I’m so thankful for them,” Chessell said.

It was mostly an evening for Chessell to escape a reality that has changed since April 2017. He was 11 at the time, and his mom Julie – a nurse in Stratford – took him to a doctor when she noticed her son losing weight.

They figured some protein shakes would do the trick, but Chessell was diagnosed with stage 4 hepatoblastoma, an uncommon liver cancer usually diagnosed during the first three years of a child’s life.

“It took my world away,” he said. “I couldn’t play hockey. I didn’t really understand what was going on because I was young. I knew something was up because I was in the hospital all the time. It took a lot away from me and still (does). I’m not the way I was. I’m tired a lot playing hockey. It was probably the worst year of my life.”

Chessell endured 16 rounds of chemotherapy and multiple surgeries, including a 13-hour liver transplant that ultimately saved his life.

“We knew where we were going to bury him,” Julie Chessell said.

Brock Chessell was defiant, and he vowed to beat the disease. He was discharged from Sick Kids Hospital nine days after his transplant, which beat the previous record for transplant recipients by a day, and he was on the ice 10 weeks later.

“I just wanted to get back to hockey,” he said. “I was afraid of dying. Now I’m just happy I’m not sick. I’m not really afraid of dying anymore after what I went through.”

The Grade 8 student at Holy Name of Mary Catholic School now advocates on behalf of kids with cancer. He speaks at events and encourages people to donate to children’s hospitals and foundations and sign donor cards. He wants to be a transplant surgeon.

“For him, even though it’s a sad story initially, his timeline was really quick,” Julie Chessell said. “A lot of stuff happened in a short amount of time. His fight, his determination, his resiliency is what I think draws people to him.”

More than 18 months after his initial diagnosis, Brock Chessell has inspired the hockey community. He’s met and received support from multiple NHLers, including fellow cancer survivor Phil Kessel, and he has enough signed memorabilia to fill a basement.

But it’s come at a cost. Chemotherapy made his skin sensitive, and he isn’t supposed to spend much time in the sun. He no longer likes oatmeal, bananas and certain vegetables – foods he ate regularly before the punishing cancer-fighting treatment.

Subsequent surgeries after the transplant wiped out progress in his recovery, but it didn’t stop him from postponing an operation in the spring so he could help his team win an Ontario Minor Hockey Association title.

Brock Chessell is wearing the championship hat on this cold November morning, a reminder of the good things that have happened in a childhood tainted by turmoil.

“He looks normal,” Julie Chessell said. “You would never know he had cancer. His hair is back, and you can’t see the scars from his transplant, but he knows that he’s not where he was before, and he remembers what it was like before he was sick, and that’s tough.

“He’s alive, and we’re so thankful for that. That’s the main goal, to keep him healthy and alive. But for a 13-year-old boy who just wants to play hockey and baseball, his world shattered, and that’s frustrating for him.

“It rocked our world, and our journey followed from there.”

 

Originally published by Cory Smith in postmedia

 

 

 

 

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