(Author’s note: Two months ago, we brought you the story of Owen Brady, a top prospect for the 2019 Ontario League draft who was diagnosed with cancer. We also said we would keep our readers updated on his journey to recovery, right up to his first OHL game. This is the first of those updates.)
Two weeks after his 16th birthday, Owen Brady sat with his family and waited for the results of a pathology report. The surgery that was supposed to be 12 hours ended up being 19 and a hospital stay that was slated to last less than a week stretched to 11 days. His left leg is full of plates and screws and the fibula is gone from his right leg, grafted and put in place to replace the tibia that had to be removed from his left leg.
One of the possibilities was that Owen would have osteosarcoma, the kind of cancer Terry Fox had, which would require six months of chemotherapy and set back his timetable for getting back on the ice. The other possibility would be chondrasarcoma, which would not require chemotherapy, basically because researchers haven’t found a chemotherapy combination to which it will respond. He might be back earlier without chemotherapy, but getting the treatment will all but guarantee the cancer will be eradicated, never to return.
It turned out to be osteosarcoma, which means Owen Brady will do six 35-day cycles of chemotherapy between now and August. As the best under-16 players gather for the Canada Winter Games in Red Deer starting this weekend, where he almost certainly would have anchored the defense corps for Team Ontario, he’ll be undergoing his first chemotherapy treatment. His Whitby Wildcats AAA minor midget team has already won its first playoff round and is ranked No. 4 in Ontario without him in the lineup. He’ll miss all of his playoffs, the OHL Cup and a summer of training for what was supposed to be his first OHL camp.
But Owen Brady and his family have chosen to be grateful. Grateful for the fact that the bump on the upper part of his left shin that appeared last summer was discovered to be cancer before it spread. Grateful that it wasn’t in his knee, which would have required major reconstruction of the joint. Grateful for the steady hand of Dr. Sevan Hopyan (and the plastic surgeons) at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, who spent 19 hours in the operating room working on Owen, then told the family it was his honor to do the surgery. “The people at Sick Kids are stars,” said Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock. “They’re beyond incredible. It’s interesting. They pay pro athletes all this money and those are the people saving lives.”
Most of all, they’re grateful for the way the hockey world has responded. The Oshawa Generals hosted Owen and his family and auctioned off a John Tavares sweater, with all proceeds going to a GoFundMe initiative for him and his family. Comedian Gerry Dee reached out to the family. Bobby Orr sent Owen a personalized autographed photo of his 1970 Stanley Cup winning goal. And Babcock invited Owen and his parents, Chris and Deirdre, to be his guest when the Leafs hosted the Anaheim Ducks in early February. Owen was presented with a Morgan Rielly sweater and got to spend time with Babcock before the game before being invited to meet the players in the dressing room after the game.
Babcock, whose mother died of ovarian cancer when she was just 51 years old, has hosted children with cancer at games going back to his days with the Anaheim Ducks. He has seen first-hand the kind of ravaging effects the disease can have on a family and if he can give them a few hours of pleasure that allows them to take their mind off the struggle, it’s a worthwhile endeavor.
“What people don’t understand is that when someone in your family gets cancer, your whole family gets cancer,” Babcock said after the Leafs beat the Ducks 6-1 that night. “He had 19 hours of surgery. He showed me what’s going on and he believes he’s playing hockey again and that’s outstanding. The parents are spectacular. He brought his buddy to the game and he talked about his sister. He has a great support network.”
Admittedly, Owen Brady and his family are still trying to get their heads around everything that has happened over the past two months. One day he was preparing to play in the prestigious Silver Stick Tournament with the Wildcats and literally the next he learned he has cancer and won’t be on the ice for at least a year. It’s a dizzying, chaotic thing to endure, but both the young man and his family are continuing to try to mine the positives.
“My mom died of cancer and it’s the scariest thing in the world,” Babcock said. “As soon as you hear the word, it doesn’t matter who you are, you’re scared to death. Good for the kid because he’s got a great attitude. He’s a good kid.”
Next up will be the OHL draft, where despite the cancer diagnosis, he’s a good bet to be taken by a team that is willing to be patient to wait for a top prospect. The fight continues for Owen Brady and the hockey world continues to have his back.