Even tiring bag skates don’t bother Eric Tien much anymore after the physically- and mentally-exhausting fight he endured just to stay alive.
Tien, a Michigan resident, was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer that targets skeletal muscle tissue, in 2009. It aggressively spread to his kidneys, lymph nodes, bone marrow and other areas. Six months of chemotherapy, six weeks of radiation and other treatments temporarily weakened his body, but ultimately left him cancer free.
He is now back to playing hockey, as a member of the Johnstown Tomahawks, a junior-level club in the North American Hockey League .
And, like with many teams, the Tomahawks occasionally hold bag skates during which players go through demanding skating drills until they are worn out. Tien doesn’t mind though. “It’s freedom to be on the ice instead of being confined to a hospital,” he said.
The thought of playing hockey again - bag skates and all - motivated Tien during his long medical battle.
“I like the game so much that I couldn’t quit,” said Tien, a forward. “I just kept going. To be honest with you, playing during chemotherapy was helpful because it’s hard to separate yourself from being a cancer patient and a real person. I wanted to be a real person. Playing hockey helps you be a real person, not just a cancer patient. A cancer patient’s life is pretty boring. If you can do anything to get your mind away from being put into a hospital for five days straight it’s really, really beneficial.”
Now, Tien, 20, is going to get the chance to help others fighting the disease.
This weekend, the Tomahawks will take part in Face Off Against Cancer, an event, co-sponsored by Conemaugh Health System, that will benefit local cancer patients. On Friday, the team will host Pink at the Rink, in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena. Pink rally towels will be given out to the first 500 people in attendance.
Then, on Saturday, Hope Support Cure, a Conemaugh Health System campaign to support patients with all forms of cancer, will occur. The first 700 fans will receive ice scrapers. Friday’s game is scheduled to start at 7:30 p.m. Puck drop is set for 7 p.m. on Saturday.
All of the money raised will remain in the local community.
“It’s going to be pretty exciting to be able to give back a little bit to such a great cause,” said Johnstown Tomahawks head coach Jason Spence.
A two-day Pink at the Rink event was held in 2012. The format was modified to include Hope Support Cure this year.
“We realized that there is such a large population of individuals who are affected by all types of cancers, not just breast cancer, so we wanted to tie that in this year,” said Stacy Roberts, a marketing coordinator with the health system
Having personally fought the disease, Tien understands the benefits of events such as Face Off Against Cancer.
“I don’t think many of us would be here - survivors - if people weren’t getting the word out,” Tien said. “Countless, countless people donate and that goes to supporting us, finding a cure or finding a better way for treatment.”
Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/Dave_Sutor.