Editor’s Note: Bryan Bickell, a second-round National Hockey League draft for the Chicago Blackhawks in 2004, played his last NHL game as a forward with the Carolina Hurricanes in April 2017, some five months after being diagnosed with relapsing multiple sclerosis. Bickell played on the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup-winning teams in 2010, 2013 and 2015, scoring nine goals during the 2013 playoffs, including the tying goal in Game 6. (He officially retired a Blackhawk in October, having signed a one-day contract with the Chicago team.)
In this column, Bickell talks about life with MS, his treatment and new goals, including a foundation he has started with his wife, Amanda, and his disease awareness-raising partnership with Biogen.
Last fall, I was playing hockey professionally and doing the best I could, but my body wasn’t feeling right and I sensed something was wrong. After having to pull myself out of a team practice one day, I decided to schedule a visit with my doctor. I then learned I had relapsing multiple sclerosis (MS).
Looking back on the past twelve months, I realize how much my life has changed. Though it hasn’t been easy, what’s stayed with me is my drive to be positive. It has helped me throughout my hockey career, and now I’ve focused this energy on fighting this difficult disease.
With MS, I’ve had to face challenges I never thought I’d be tackling, and set new goals for my future. I try to take one day at a time, getting support from friends and family along the way. With a year now behind me, I’ve had a chance to reflect on where I started and where I plan to go next in my fight against MS.
When my doctor first shared the news that I had MS, my wife Amanda and I felt confused and worried. We didn’t know much about this disease or how it would affect me. I was overcome with a terrible fear of the unknown. What did this mean for my health and family?
I also had a sense of relief, because I finally had an answer to some of the unexplained symptoms I’d been experiencing for several years, including dizziness and pain that spread through my shoulder and leg. No longer did I have to ask myself, “What’s wrong with me?” With my wife’s help, I knew I had to fight this disease head on and take action.
In the days and weeks following my November diagnosis, I worked closely with my doctor to learn all I could about my relapsing MS. Together we decided on a care plan, including a treatment option that’s right for me. I started Tysabri (natalizumab) after discussing its benefits and risks, including the increased risk of a rare brain infection called PML. So far, my experience with Tysabri has been positive, and I visit my doctor regularly to monitor my progress and check for any side effects.
My support team
I retired from professional hockey in April after making the personal decision to focus on my health and time with my family. I’d spent my whole life on the ice, working through long practices and constantly traveling to different cities, so it wasn’t easy adjusting to a different lifestyle. Fortunately, Amanda has helped me so much over the last year. She also continues to encourage me to stay active. These last months, I’ve enjoyed taking walks with our dog and playing with our two young daughters.
Since my diagnosis, I’ve realized what matters most in my life. Spending time with my family, something I had limited time to do previously, is the highlight of my day. Little things, like cooking dinner or sitting down to read a bedtime story, have a lot of meaning for me.
I truly feel blessed to have my own fan club at home. I want to stay strong and be there for them. Working with my doctor, I continue the lifestyle habits I learned as an athlete, such as eating well and take the time I need to rest.
I’ve been humbled by my friends and former teammates who support me and keep me as motivated off the ice as they did when I was on it. Their encouragement, along with those in the MS community who’ve reached out after learning about my diagnosis, is what inspires me to keep going and help others in their fight with MS. I believe we’re all in this together.
The next chapter
With this year behind me, I’m looking ahead to the next part of my life with MS. This past July, Amanda and I launched a new program as part of our charity organization, The Bryan & Amanda Bickell Foundation, which provides trained service dogs to help people living with MS navigate some day-to-day challenges. I’m grateful for the opportunity to expand our Foundation’s efforts to benefit people living with MS. Amanda and I are also partnering with Biogen to raise awareness and help others in their personal fight with this disease.
While there have been many positive moments over the past year, there have also been some difficult ones. Hockey taught me the importance of perseverance and teamwork, and I’ve carried these lessons into my new life with MS. I’m doing my best to stay optimistic and continue moving forward. No matter what, I am and always will be a fighter.
To learn more about my story, visit FacesofaFighter.com.
Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.