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MacDonald Healthy, Anxious to Play Again

By Ken Schott

Schenectady Daily Gazette, April 5, 2006

Kirk MacDonald was with some of his Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute teammates and former coach Dan Fridgen at the NCAA tournament East Regional at Pepsi Arena March 25.

The Engineers senior was smiling. He had a beard, which he grew when he played the last two years. More importantly, he looked fit and healthy.

Last year, MacDonald's life was turned upside down. It was one year ago today that MacDonald was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

One year later, MacDonald's cancer is in remission. He sat out this season, and is preparing to play his final college year next season.

"It's been interesting, for sure," MacDonald said. "It's kind of hard to describe the last year. It's been a pretty big roller coaster."

It was a shock because MacDonald had an oustanding 2004-05 season, leading the Engineers in scoring and tallying a dramatic game-winning goal against Brown in the final 10 seconds of the Big Red Freakout.

But no one outside the team knew that MacDonald was hurting. At the end of the season, he had trouble tying his skates.

"I was feeling pretty awful," MacDonald said. "I didn't know why."

Now, MacDonald is feeling much better. He has gained most of the 73 pounds he lost while going through his ordeal, and weighs 192 pounds. His playing weight during his junior season was 210.

"I could probably play now, if I had to," MacDonald said. "I'm real close. My strength is back almost to where it was before. My conditioning is really good. I'm in great shape, right now. It's just a matter of keep pushing, and keep going."

"It's six months until the season starts. It feels like a long time, right now. But it's going to be here before you know it."

MacDonald said he was never scared by the cancer, but there were many moments of frustration.

"It's not something you want to deal with," MacDonald said. "But that's life. Sometimes, it throws you a curveball."

The lowest point of MacDonald's situation wasn't the diagnosis, but an infection that hospitalized him for two months late in the summer.

MacDonald needed to undergo an operation to remove the rest of the tumor from his abdomen. He was hoping that, after having the tumor out, he could start getting ready to return the Engineers in late December.

It turned into a major problem as MacDonald developed an infection and had fluid build up. He couldn't eat solid food for nearly two months, and had to be fed through an intravenous tube.

Although MacDonald eventually recovered, it ended any chance of him playing this season.

"Pretty much what could have gone wrong from the surgery went wrong," MacDonald said. "Before I went in for that surgery, the doctor said, 'Look, it's going to be a real tough surgery. These things could go wrong. If the surgery is succesful, and everything comes out as hoped, you should be back playing hockey by Christmas time.' That was the plan."

"One day, something's going wrong. I can't eat, I'm throwing up, I get an infection, I get a fever. You name it, it happened."

MacDonald returned to campus the second weekend of November for Black Friday and JoƩ Juneau Night. At first, MacDonald was reluctant to leave his Victoria, British Columbia, home.

But coming back that weekend proved to be the best medicine of all.

"I was a little nervous," MacDonald said. "My parents kind of pushed me to go. They said, 'You've get out of here.' I thought maybe I wasn't ready to go back. It's definitely the best thing I ever did. If I stayed at home, I would have stuck myself on the sofa all day, and never got better. I would have been further behind than I am now. That really got me going."

And now, MacDonald can't wait for Oct. 14, when RPI opens the season hosting Boston University.

"Time's going to fly," MacDonald said. "I'll be ready for it, that's for sure."