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Cancer Ordeal Sidelines RPI Star

MacDonald Out for Year after Several Surgeries

By Matt Graves

Albany Times Union, October 20, 2005

The task became a bit more difficult for RPI's hockey team after 2004-05 scoring leader Kirk MacDonald announced Wednesday that he would not be able to return this year after a grueling battle with testicular cancer.

"Based on the recommendations of my doctors, I will not be able to play this season," MacDonald said in a teleconference with members of the local media. "Therefore, I will be applying for a medical hardship waiver."

MacDonald, who scored a team-leading 16 goals and 36 points last season in 37 games, should be eligible to return to the team for next season barring complications.

He's already had enough of those, and it was the complications from surgery as much as the original cancer that probably precluded MacDonald from returning this season. His original surgery to have a malignant testicle removed in April at Albany Medical Center was only the beginning of MacDonald's ordeal.

"I feel great now," said MacDonald, who subsequently went through four sessions of chemotherapy that left him hairless and three more operations beginning in August that kept him in a hospital in his native Vancouver for an additional 65 days. "I lost a lot of weight."

The first was a punishing nine-hour procedure on Aug. 2 to eradicate cancer that had spread into his abdomen. He developed an infection that required another surgery to repair four weeks later, then required one more procedure to fix a bowel obstruction on Sept. 24.

He was finally released on Oct. 6 to begin recovery and rehabilitation -- having lost roughly 50 pounds from his 210-pound frame.

"It was tough, but it's almost better that they said I can't play this year," said the 21-year-old senior, whose ordeal is being supported by teammates and staff wearing Lance Armstrong bracelets this season. "It was a long stay in the hospital ... but there hasn't been one doctor who said I couldn't play hockey again."

MacDonald hasn't been able to begin any serious training because of the weakness in his abdomen, but he said he hopes to return to school "as soon as possible" and resume classes at RPI's second semester.

MacDonald played in all but one of his team's games last year, but said he noticed signs that something wasn't right well before it ended with a pair of playoff losses at Brown.

"I had back problems in January that lasted right to the end of the season," said the hard-checking forward, one of his team's biggest front-liners. "I had back pain, and it was not getting better. By the end of the season, I couldn't sleep at all. I don't know how I played against Brown."

What's even more amazing is that he scored a goal in the final game, a 4-3 overtime loss. MacDonald somehow managed to get points in each of his last four games despite the constant back pain that soon after would be diagnosed as cancer.

Over the past two seasons, MacDonald has contributed 31 goals and 70 points to the Engineers offense. Filling his skates won't be easy.

"Of course, from a quality perspective, you're not replacing a guy like Kirk," said RPI coach Dan Fridgen, who said teammates will have to step up offensively and defensively. "Do they realize they're going to have to rally around him? Yeah, definitely. If I were a player and he was a teammate, that would certainly give me incentive to pick up the slack."