Netminder conquers childhood cancer to realize dream
Published Monday, February 18, 2013 4:11PM MST
Last Updated Monday, February 18, 2013 5:48PM MST
Leland Irving has had a week of ups and downs.
The Flames called the young goaltender up from the minors to replace Mikka Kipprusoff between the pipes but they sent him back down a week later so they wouldn't lose rights to him.
Irving can handle highs and lows because he's been dealing with them his whole life.
“As a kid I didn't dream this big. I didn’t know it would reach this point, I just loved the game,” said Irving. “It’s hard to believe I’m actually here.”
Irving overcame more than most to get this far.
Not only did he beat his competition in the junior ranks but he also beat rhabdomyosarcoma as a child.
Rhabdomyosarcoma is the most common tissue tumour in children and affects the muscles that are attached to the bones.
“As an eight year old kid, I thought I’d go through my chemo, get my medicine and through time I would just get better, I didn’t realize the severity of it,” said Irving.
It was at a camp for kids fighting cancer that he met Mark Harrison, an Edmonton firefighter who was volunteering as a medic.
‘Every Friday night they have a dance and Leland, he was eight years old at the time, he just had a little bit of peach fuzz on his head, his treatment was just finished. He was sitting in a corner, didn't want to dance, was not having fun, so I just went over to talk to him and asked him, what would you like to do? He said he didn't like dancing and I said we don't have to dance we can do whatever you want to do, we ended up out playing basketball and a little bit of road hockey,” said Harrison.
That meeting launched a friendship that has spanned nearly two decades.
When Irving decided he wanted to become a goalie, his parents bought him the pads for Christmas and Harrison got him a blocker and catching glove through a supplier from his brother’s sporting goods store.
“He was just a really kind kid and he has grown up to be a very kind person and that’s really what drew me to him,” said Harrision. “If you crack the door open an inch, he's going to kick it right down and go though it and that's always how he is. He's had opportunities and he’s always made the most of them,” said Harrision.
Irving is still fighting cancer by participating in fundraisers and visiting children struggling with the disease.
“Having gone through my own fight with cancer, gives kids hope and that’s my hope is for them to dream big and just to keep living their life the way they would had they not had cancer,” said Irving.
Irving says it was his friends and family who helped him get through his battle and hockey helped him to forget it all and be a normal kid.
Irving was drafted by the Flames in 2006 and plays for the Abbotsford Heat.