In January 2010, Luke Boechler was on his way to hockey practice in Yorkton with a teammate when his doctor called.
The results of a blood test taken earlier that day were already in and something wasn’t right. He had to get to Regina immediately for a second look.
“I really didn’t even know what he was talking about,” Boechler said. “I just assumed that it was a test and it would be fine. But it turned out to be a lot bigger than I thought.”
Later that night Boechler, who at that time was a promising 19-year-old goaltender for the Yorkton Terriers in the Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League, made the two-hour drive to Regina.
After meeting with doctors and having a bone marrow sample removed from his hip, Boechler was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.
“It was all a big blur,” he said. “The leukemia was pretty bad at the start. I don’t think I could have gone much longer without being treated.”
Boechler began chemotherapy treatment and was hospitalized in Regina for three months, hooked up to a catheter through his chest. He kept up with his hockey team over the radio as they fought through the playoffs and eventually to the league finals.
Following the treatment, Boechler and his parents temporarily moved to Calgary for a stem cell transplant, which increased his chance of surviving from 10 per cent to between 50 and 60 per cent.
He said although the treatments were incredibly hard on his body, the doctors were “bang on” with their prognosis.
Now, two and a half years since the leukemia receded, Boechler is at the University of Saskatchewan studying pharmacy and is particularly interested in cancer drugs.
This year he helped organize the U of S Relay For Life fundraiser to support Canadians living with cancer. The relay was held in Place Riel from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. March 23 and 24. Twelve teams, mostly of students, collected donations and walked laps around a cordoned-off course for 12 straight hours, raising $14,758.
Alongside the relay, the event included live music, classic games like Twister and limbo, yoga classes and a sombre luminary ceremony to honor individuals who have had their lives changed by cancer.
This is the second consecutive year U of S students have held the fundraising relay in upper Place Riel. Organizers worry that if the event grows again next year they will need to find a new venue on campus.
“I think it’s a big deal if we can get the university on board to let us into the PAC or something like that,” Boechler said.
“We would like to get the university more involved. So then when people see that the University of Saskatchewan is officially promoting the event, it will feel like a unified campus thing.”
Kristen Allen works for the Canadian Cancer Society and works with groups hosting events like the relay on campus and the CCS.
“We had more participants than last year, we had more teams than last year, so we’re growing,” she said. “Our biggest thing is that we’re fearing that we might run out of space.”
Allen said university facility managers were hesitant to allow the event into the PAC overnight because “if they open it up for one non-profit they are going to have to open it up to another.”
But by increasing the size of the event, Allen says it opens the door to more cash donations.
“We’d love to be in the PAC,” she said. “It just hasn’t happened yet.”
“You know, it’s always a great thing when you’re outgrowing the space that you are in and you need to find something bigger. University students are great at this and there really is a ton of potential for this event to grow.”
Photo: Raisa Pezderic/Photo Editor