After taking five months off during the 2016-17 season to focus on treatment for his multiple sclerosis diagnosis, Bryan Bickell fought back to return for the final four games before retiring from hockey on his own terms.
The comeback was inspiring, and he even capped it off by scoring a goal in the shootout to cap off his NHL career:
But the journey certainly had its ups and downs.
In a lengthy piece written for The Players' Tribune, Bickell opens up about experiencing symptoms from multiple sclerosis during the Blackhawks' 2015 Stanley Cup run and the road to getting back on the ice.
Here's a snippet:
When I first started feeling different, toward the end of the regular season, I wrote it off as laziness. Like it was just a temporary mental lapse that had put me in a slump. I promised myself I’d be in better shape come playoff time.
Then the playoffs came, and I was still hurting. In fact, I was hurting even worse than before. I started missing practices, and then games during our first playoff series. I tried new training regimens, I tried altering my diet, I tried basically everything, but I just could not get going.
By the conference finals, I was beside myself. I couldn’t understand what was happening. Game 5 was my breaking point. I took a hit into the boards early in the third period and I couldn’t catch my breath, even after I got to the bench. I eventually huffed and puffed back to the locker room before I fainted, right there in the doorway. I fell face-first into a wall on my way down. I’m honestly lucky I still had my helmet on.
When I came to, the first thing I saw was the trainer, hovering over me with smelling salts.
“I think you need to see a doctor.”
At first, the doctors told me it could be any number of things — vertigo, some kind of issue with the fluid in my ear, or even residual symptoms from an infected tooth. Nobody knew for sure. I saw all kinds of specialists and found some temporary solutions, but it seemed like nothing was helping me get back to 100%.
We ended up coming back and beating Anaheim in seven games, and then we went on to win the Cup. Our second in three years. I finished with five assists, zero goals, and one really shitty feeling inside my body.
Of course you’re going to be happy when your team wins the Cup, but I just couldn’t celebrate for very long. I was beat down, and no matter what I tried, things just kept going downhill for me physically. I started to lose control of my left arm and leg. They would move at random times, like they had a mind of their own. Or they wouldn’t respond to my brain when I tried to tell them what to do.
I was losing control over my own body, and it was really, really scary.
The only thing that was scarier was that I couldn’t find anyone to tell me why it was happening. And I didn’t get an answer until a year and a half later.