When I heard the news my heart dropped. Senior Mike Campaner, a vibrant senior leader on the Colgate Men’s Hockey team had announced that he had been diagnosed with a disease whose ravaging effects I had witnessed first-hand: Multiple Sclerosis. Sometimes there are incidents in athlete’s lives that remind them of how lucky they are to be playing sports. This was one of those incidents. MS effects between 250,000 and 350,000 individuals worldwide, but, in order to fully understand the magnitude of this illness, one needs to get a bit more personal. My best friend Andrew Burpee, a guy who has been a brother to me since we were in second grade, knows the unfortunate extent of this debilitating disease. His father, Tom Burpee, has had the illness for the last fifteen years.
“The hardest thing about our situation was that my Dad had to assume the roles a father would while dealing with the severity of the disease.” Andrew said. “Just seeing the way the disease not only attacks the victim but the family as well really makes MS a lot harder to handle”.
Needless to say, hearing the news about a guy my own age being diagnosed shook me up. I wanted to know his story. I wanted to understand how one possibly deals with such an insurmountable life challenge. Luckily for me, Campaner was willing to share his story.
Mike was officially diagnosed in December after feeling numbness in his feet one morning. The diagnosis took months to make and the process was certainly a difficult one. The changes in his life have already become evident.
“”It has just made me take care of myself a little better, eat a lot healthier and keep up with the working out and staying strong” Campaner said.
When asked about the experience Campaner acknowledged the difficulty of it all, but was adamant in his assertion regarding what he’s learned from the experience.
“It sucked being in a hospital bed, getting a bunch of MRI’s, going back and forth getting a lot of blood work. The spinal tap in late November was probably the most extreme pain of my entire life,” Campaner said. “But this whole thing has made me a stronger person and once I talked to a lot of doctors, found out as much as I could, and started feeling healthier it got easier. I just try to keep a positive attitude. It showed me the importance of really taking advantage of your college time and really enjoying and appreciating things a lot more.”
Campaner also was extremely thankful for the support of the Colgate community.
“My friends have really been great,” Campaner said in a deeply appreciative tone. “My doctors and coaches have been extremely helpful as well and everyone in the community has given me a lot of support.”
Perhaps the most amazing aspect of Campaner’s story was his steadfast determination in finishing the rest of the hockey season even after being diagnosed with the disease. When asked about his motivation for coming back, Campaner was adamant in his response.
“I couldn’t handle just watching from the stands. I went home and started working out, and even though I was in extreme pain, I couldn’t stand the thought of not playing. It was real tough because it was hard to accept that I wouldn’t be the same player I was, but there was really nothing else I would rather do.”
Campaner, who intends on playing in Europe eventually, stressed that his message was not one of sadness or despair, but rather one of optimism in the face of adversity.
“The main message I’d like people to get out of this is just to have hope, and realize there are always worse things in life.”
Campaner’s has already begun spreading that message. His latest cause brought him and his Raider teammates to Utica to participate in a MS walk.
“We’re all going out to Utica, we’re going to wear our jerseys and try to raise some money and awareness.” Campaner explained. “Hopefully we’ll be able to give some hope to others who are worse off than I am.”
I initially expected that Campaner would have a solemn demeanor, however, he impressively took the challenge head on, with the same resolve that he has shown throughout his hockey career. It seemed evident that this illness had presented him with the opportunity gain a new appreciation for life, and help others in the process.
“The treatment has gotten better since my father has been diagnosed so there is some hope there,” Andrew remarked. “I also hope that those who are close to Campaner continue to be there for him. There is no better treatment than the love of family and friends.”
The ultimate message that I received from Campaner, and from Andrew’s experience with his father, was one of hope. Sure there was some fear, certainly difficult challenges, but their positive attitude continued to shine through. Their diagnosis has taught all of us that we have a lot to be thankful for. More importantly, for these individuals, being diagnosed with MS hasn’t ruined their lives, but only made them stronger. Men like Mike Campaner and Tom Burpee have taken the challenges they’ve faced, looked the monster right in the eye, and lived to see another day. To borrow a quote from Joseph Campbell, “Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging.” Hopefully we all can see how courageous people can be when faced with adversity and perhaps let that strength inspire us to be just as brave when helping them through their ordeals. We certainly have some excellent role models to help lead the way.
For more information on MS, you can go to http://www.nationalmssociety.org or call 1-800-FIGHT-MS.