Putting things into perspective

Above is a story from February about a young hockey player, Connor McMahon, and a unique bond shared between him and young hockey fan, Reece McPhail.

Update 4/23/13, New Video about Connor:  http://www.11alive.com/news/article/285243/40/Survivor-who-helped-kids-with-cancer-faces-new-fight

March 25, 2013,  This morning, I received a copy of the e-mail below from Connor’s father. It really touched me.  Maybe it’s because my sons are close in age. Maybe it’s because my boys play hockey.  Or maybe, it’s simply because I’m a father. Just like Don.

From: Don McMahon [mailto:dmcman1@gmail.com]

Sent: Monday, March 25, 2013 7:14 AM

Subject: Connor McMahon Update – Sad news

Here we go again.  This is going to be a tough email to write, but it is one I thought you would want to hear about.  It is hard to believe that a road that I believed we were off, we somehow veered back onto.  For some unknown reason, Connor’s cancer has come back.  I guess I should start with how this all came about.  So here goes…

Connor McMahon the patient

Connor McMahon the patient

About a month ago, just after the Reece McPhail story,  Connor began complaining about his back bothering him.  I took it to just be growing pains and gave him an adjustment or took him by my chiropractic office and had one of the doctors adjust him.  He would say the adjustments helped and we would just go about our day.  I have also noticed some bruising recently but after all, he is 11, bruising is expected right?  

So this weekend was to be our last weekend of hockey.  Connor’s team made up an All Star team of sorts and we are playing an All Star team from Florida. On Thursday, Connor woke up and told us he was not feeling well.  He had a bad cough and I decided to tell him to stay home and his mom would get him to the doctor later in the day.  As it turns out…strep throat.  So no school Thursday or Friday, but we also had a hockey game Friday, so, having my priorities completely straight, I told him, no school, but he could play Friday night.  But as it turns out, a bad headache late in the day got the better of him and he said he would rather not play until the Saturday morning game.  

So Saturday morning comes and Connor wakes up without a headache, but now his back is hurting.  The challenge was, the other goalie couldn’t be there and I told Connor that he had to play.  He told me that he wanted to sleep on the floor in his room that night so I was complaining to him that he shouldn’t have done that before a hockey game.  He said he would be able to play so off we went to the rink.  But as more and more time went by, his back pain was getting worse.  By the time we got to the rink, he was having issues standing.  I will be honest, I knew.  I knew that the demon that sidelined him had come back in the night while we were all sleeping and had crept into his room and would once again make an attempt to steal his childhood.  I didn’t want it to be true so I pressed him to get dressed.  I wanted so badly to will the cancer away.  In my mind, if he dressed and played, then he couldn’t possibly have cancer again.  

So he did dress, and he did warm ups with his team.  All of the coaches on the bench were telling me he shouldn’t play.  They said he looked like he was in too much pain.  But I assured them he was just tight and that once he got loose he would be fine.  So they reluctantly agreed to let him start, but as a precaution, they put a second goalie on the bench.  

He started the game and played really well.  Even making some really amazing saves.  His movement was limited but I kept justifying that he was playing well and he needed to be tough.  At the end of the 2nd period his coach Dan came to him and told him, “Connor, no need to be a hero. If you are hurt there is no shame in getting off the ice” Connor assured him that he would be ok to play.  But he also looked at me right after he said it.  I knew that at this point he was playing for me, not for him or his team.  I could see the pain was not going away.  I asked him, are you able to go, and he said, “I’ve got nothing left, I gave all I can give today” so I told him to tell the other goalie Jack to go in.  

When he got to the bench, his coach told him to go ahead and get off the ice and change.  So I opened the door and to the lockers he went.  

Courageous Connor

Courageous Connor

When he came out, I told him that I would take him tot the ER or to an urgent care to get X-rays and then we would go to The Joint and have the doctor read them and start him on a rehab of his back.  We left the rink in Alpharetta and drove to a restaurant for some lunch.  Again, I think I knew this was not going to be good and maybe I was delaying the normal life I had just 24 hours ago to not have to go tot the one I have now.  The life of a parent of a child with cancer.

After lunch, my wife Michelle took our sons Sean and Declan home and I went to the urgent care with Connor.  He was in severe pain and was fighting back tears while we waited.  I waited with Connor and my mind raced.  Time was defying all natural physics and had slowed to a crawl.  At 12:45, Michelle showed up and I talked to her briefly in the lobby.  I told her that I had to leave to go to the hockey draft for Declan at the Ice Forum. I gave Connor a hug, told him I loved him and I was gone.  

I didn’t make it too far from the Urgent care when I started this chat thread with Michelle;

1:57pm Don: “if you would feel better just taking him to Children’s Hospital, then just pack up your stuff and go.  I am sure we are over thinking this and that we are probably over reacting, but that is what makes us great parents”.

2:05pm Michelle: We left and we are going to Scottish Rite. 

And that’s the thought process.  We spoke on the phone a few minutes later and we said we knew the cancer was back.  I can’t tell you how we knew, but we did.  By 2:50pm they were drawing blood and by 4:00pm, we knew for sure, his cancer was back.

Have any of you ever been in a car accident or had an event happen in your life where you can see it so vividly and it goes in slow motion before your eyes.  It’s as if you can step out of the scene and move around outside of your body.  That is how I felt when this happened again.  Numb. Angry. Robbed.  Once again, cancer made its way into the house and as a father I couldn’t do anything to protect my son.  It’s a feeling of helplessness that can’t be described unless you are in this situation.

So, now what…

Well the doctors said that this time, they will treat the cancer much more aggressively.  We do know that it is ALL again. (Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia) and it is the B precursor type.  So this is the exact type of cancer from 4 years ago. The odds of getting this cancer again are .01% percent.  Meaning 99.9% of people that are cancer free 5 years from the date of initial diagnosis NEVER get this type of cancer again.  I guess we are just REALLY lucky.  

On Sunday morning, Connor’s hockey team dedicated their game to him before they played and vowed to play with the same gut and determination that Connor played with on Saturday.  they won that game 3  – 0.  The coaches said they had never looked better as a team then they did on Sunday.  after the game, the entire team came to visit him in the hospital to bring him gifts for his birthday.  yes, his birthday is today, March 25th.

As a birthday gift he is starting his day with a platelet transfusion and then he will go in for surgery to have a bone marrow aspiration, a spinal tap, have his port installed in his chest and get his first round of chemotherapy.  Sometimes life just isn’t fair.

The good news…he is in a great hospital.  He has an amazing spirit.  Sorry for the length of this email, but the story can’t be told in a short paragraph.  I know that both of you did a great job of telling his story so I knew you would want to know.


Don McMahon

Connor video on NHL Network on 3/25/13: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Eeq0Y88bK0g&feature=youtube_gdata

Online blog from his first diagnosis:  www.caringbridge.org/ga/connorpatrick


About Matt Boettcher - Dads' Bucket List

Husband and dad to two boys who's always trying to enjoy the humor and meaning in the journey of fatherhood. Check out how things are going at: http://dadsbucketlist.com In addition to these responsibilities I'm also an avid (some would say obsessive) sports fan, very amateur gardener, aging but still active runner, and an always willing to experience a new country traveler.
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2 Responses to Putting things into perspective

  1. Perspective indeed. Prayers for Connor, his family, and his medical team.

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