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Hoping to be home for the holidays

It has been a long road for Luke Boechler since he learned he had Acute Myeloid Leukemia Feb. 4, but the 20-year-old who was in the midst of a Junior hockey career with the Yorkton Terriers is beginning to dream of the game again.
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It has been a long road for Luke Boechler since he learned he had Acute Myeloid Leukemia Feb. 4, but the 20-year-old who was in the midst of a Junior hockey career with the Yorkton Terriers is beginning to dream of the game again.

"I've been thinking about that just about every day," he said. " I miss hockey a lot."

Boechler said if the bone marrow transfusion he had Sept. 17, is completely successful in defeating his leukemia there is no reason he could not play the game again.

"It just depends how I feel It's really a matter of conditioning, on how much strength and weight I can get back," said the 20-year-old who is still in Calgary where the transfusion took place.

Boechler said he would love to find his way back into a Terrier jersey this season.

"Actually I think about that quite a bit," he said. " It's a little far-fetched right now It would be nice. It depends how strong I can get."

Boechler said since the Bone Marrow Stem Cell Transplant in September at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre at the Foothills Hospital in Calgary he has been getting steadily better after a few weeks of adjusting to the effects of the process.

"I'm back at the gym at Calgary here," he said, adding he and his father (Brian) have been going almost every day the last two weeks.

While a return to the hockey ice might be a little more than a hopeful dream yet, Boechler has a shorter term dream, getting back to Yorkton.

"I'll be home by Christmas if everything goes well," he said in an interview with Yorkton This Week Dec. 1.

Friday Boechler was scheduled to see his doctor to have bone marrow drawn out of his hip bone to test to see if the leukemia cells are all gone. He said that test is a big one, but he is pragmatic too that he will just deal with whatever the test show.

"Over the course of the whole thing there really have been a lot of ups and downs," he said, adding it has taught him to stay positive. "I know I'll get through it all, that everything is going to work out.

"It's given me a really good attitude about everything. It should work out if you're really working hard and doing the best at whatever you do."

Just the same Boechler wants the word from the doctor to be the right ones.

"Hopefully everything's clear. I'm missing home quite a bit," he said, adding he hopes to be at the Farrell Agencies Arena Dec. 30, for the annual New Year's holiday visit from the Melville Millionaires. "That would be good," he said, noting he still stays in touch with several Terrier players, talks to coach Trent Cassan and follows their exploits on the Internet.

Boechler said the initial news he had leukemia came out of the blue for someone who was only 19 and in shape where he was having a stellar start to his Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League career.

"At the beginning it was pretty shocking," he said. "You don't really expect anything this serious at a young age."

In fact Boechler had been playing only days before the discovery.

"I wasn't feeling good on a road trip," he recalled. He added he was scheduled to play a game, and didn't feel up to it. "I told Trent (Terrier coach Trent Cassan) I wouldn't be able to play that night."

Boechler would see his doctor in Yorkton, and within a couple of days was in the Pasquia Hospital in Regina beginning the journey to defeat leukemia.

"My parents at the time were in the Dominican," he said, adding they were amazed "how everybody there was helpful in getting them back here."

Boechler's parents would arrive home in a couple of days, and his sister flew in from Calgary, so his family was there to help him deal with the reality of leukemia.

Having family close, and Terrier teammates staying in touch was important, said Boechler."It kind of helped take my mind off things," he said.

Once leukemia was confirmed Boechler began a series of chemotherapy treatments which he said hit him pretty hard.

"Initially because I was already pretty sick from the leukemia the initial treatments were pretty tough on me," he said.

Over his treatment periods, a time Boechler said he was pretty much inactive, and his appetite faded, and while never a big person, he would lose 40-pounds."It was pretty noticeable," he said.

It would soon become apparent Boechler would require a bone marrow transfusion to have a chance to beat the leukemia. When tests showed immediate family were not compatible donors, a worldwide search began for a matching donor. The wait was another hurdle for the young man."It wasn't as tough as nerve-wracking," he said. "We were sort of sitting around asking the doctor every day if they had found one."

Boechler said he recognized that the better a match was in terms of compatibility the better the chance of success, so he said he sort of settled into the routine of waiting and hoping for the best.

Meanwhile back in Yorkton his Terrier teammates and the community were undertaking efforts to be tested as possible donors, an effort Boechler said was deeply appreciated.

"It made me feel really good that everybody was so supportive," he said, adding while none of those tested was a match for him he does understand a couple of people in Yorkton have been contacted as possible donors for others.

In Boechler's case a match was found in July, and while he had his hopes up, that transfusion fell through when something showed up on the donor's side of things.

"It was actually scheduled for July to have the transplant," he said, adding having that one fall through might actually have been a good thing in retrospect, although at the time it was a letdown.

"I was pretty frail after the four rounds of chemo (therapy) in Regina," he said.

With the transplant off, Boechler was actually sent home to Yorkton for the month of August where home cooking helped "put some weight back on and get some of my strength back."

While back in Yorkton it was also back to hoping and waiting.

A second donor was eventually found, although Boechler said he doesn't know anything "for sure" about the person. He said he has sort of heard it was a lady from Germany, but they have not officially been told anything.

"It takes a year before you can have any kind of contact with them (donors)," he explained, adding he hopes to correspond with his one day. "At some point I would like to. They kind of saved my life."

Boechler said learning the wait was finally over "was one of the good days, one of the ups of the whole journey."

As for the procedure, Boechler said, "it's basically just like a blood transfusion."

The marrow actually arrived in Calgary frozen, and Boechler said he reacted to one of the preservatives.

"There was a few breathing problems at the time of the transfusion but they gave me oxygen and it was all right," he said.

But there were more hurdles to overcome.

Boechler said because of the regime of chemotherapy he had to take before the transfusion there was a post procedure digestive tract reaction, which started with his mouth swelling.

"I couldn't eat, or drink for about a week," he said, adding after the week when he did consume food his stomach hurt, and he had to deal with nausea and vomiting. It was nearly three weeks before he got back to normal.

"That was another big thing with the weight loss," he said.

Since then Boechler said it has been a time to focus on "just healing up."

While he faced "a few complications" Boechler was soon allowed day passes from the hospital to stay at a family condo in Calgary, then he was allowed an occasional overnight stay, and eventually he moved to the condo full time.

"I've been making progress ever since," he said.

Boechler said the toughest thing is keeping busy as he waits from the final word from his doctor that he has won his battle.

There are of course a few smiles as he waits, including a trip to the Saddledome last Tuesday to meet some of the National Hockey League Flames at the team's practice including Jerome Iginla, a favourite player, and Robyn Regher, a defenceman he sort of has a connection to now.

"Robyn Regher's brother was one of my nurses in Regina," he said. "Talking to him about that was actually pretty neat."

Boechler said the people he has met on his journey is really the "bittersweet" aspect of facing leukemia.

"It's opened my eyes to the world and how many good people are out there that I might not have realized otherwise," he said.

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