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Brian Boyle not backing down in face of leukemia diagnosis

Devils center Brian Boyle revealed Tuesday he has been diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, but he's not planning on letting it get in the way of his season or the rest of his career.

It was mentioned to Brian Boyle of the New Jersey Devils that he had just been diagnosed with the same form of leukemia as former NHLer Jason Blake was in 2007 and Blake went on to play five more years in the best league in the world after his diagnosis.

“Well, when I call him, I’ll tell him I have (five) years left,” the 32-year old Boyle said.

“Um, it was a two-year contract, Brian, so…” interjected Devils GM Ray Shero.

Thankfully, this was not a case of gallows humor. That’s because there is every reason to be optimistic for Boyle, who was diagnosed with Chronic Myeloid Leukemia (CML) shortly after his training camp physical. As was the case with Blake, Boyle’s illness was discovered in the very early stages and that is key to a successful recovery. Both Boyle and his doctors are confident that Boyle will not only be able to carry on with a normal life, but he’ll be able to resume his playing career at some point this season.

“We are in a good place right now,” Boyle said. “With the potential of what it could have been and what it turned out to be, I think that’s a positive thing. We have a good plan of attack here and I’m looking forward to getting on the ice and playing. When that happens I don’t know, but my mindset is Oct. 7 to be honest with you. I don’t like missing games.”

That’s the night the Devils open the season against the Colorado Avalanche and, based on Blake’s experience, it might not be a stretch to suggest that Boyle could be ready. Blake’s illness was diagnosed during training camp as well and aside from missing a couple of pre-season games, Blake played the night after he made his diagnosis public and managed to play all 82 games for the Toronto Maple Leafs that season.

“I lost 10 or 12 pounds just because I couldn’t keep food in,” Blake told in a telephone call from his home in Minneapolis. “I struggled early on because I lost weight. I had to figure out how to play basically 10 pounds lighter.”

But aside from that, Blake said Boyle should be able to look forward to resuming his career. From the time he was diagnosed, Blake has taken a form of medication known as ‘the magic bullet’ which comes in pill form and something Blake takes every morning. Aside from that and the occasional bout of fatigue, Blake said he was able to resume a normal career and life beyond hockey.

“It appears to be early in the course of this disease,” said Dr. Michael Farber, the Devils’ team internist and medical director of executive health at the Hackensack University Medical Center. “The mark up is still in progress. We are awaiting further testing results that will help guide management in any possible return to play. These days there are newer medications out there that differ from the previous medications out there that are much better tolerated and that can improve survival and quality of life. We’re evaluating more medical data and from there we’ll decide which of those agents we use.”

For his part, Boyle didn’t detect anything was wrong prior to taking his first physical with the Devils. He had been feeling a little run down, but attributed most of that to having a two-year-old and three-month-old and the fact that he was dealt at the trade deadline and all the travel and upheaval that was involved in all of those life events. “That was pretty much it,” Boyle said. “(Off-season) recovery time took a little bit longer. I wasn’t sure really what it was. There were days I felt completely normal, there were days where I was a little bit tired and I didn’t really put too much into it.”

One of the best things for Boyle is that he’s a well-respected, well-liked veteran who has been a popular player everywhere he has played. He’s also a Roman Catholic who has a deep sense of faith. In fact, the priest who married him and his wife, Lauren, in 2014 was coming over for dinner Tuesday night. Boyle has 12 siblings and his father has survived kidney and lung cancers.

“Relative to that big ugly ‘L’ word (leukemia), it’s good news,” Boyle said. “I feel very fortunate, very blessed. We’ve had a tremendous outpouring of prayers, and if there’s anything I can ask is that that continues, because that’s something I’ve seen firsthand heal cancers and heal situations that were said to be untreatable.”

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