The idea of “New Year's Day” is an interesting concept. Everyone views it as a ‘new beginning’ or a ‘fresh start’; with hopes that it is better than the previous year. You can simply look back into the past and move on into the future. With that in mind, on January 1st of 2022, I, Samuel Hunter Fejes, had every intention of simplifying and growing not only as a person but as an athlete as well. I set personal and team goals with hopes to accomplish some if not all of them by the end of the year, but as you know life is not always that simple.
I write to you today, so I can tell you about an experience that changed my life forever. Something occurred that gave me a new perspective on how important it is to raise awareness for men’s health during the month of November. About seven months ago, I was sitting around the dinner table when I felt a lump right above my right collar bone. I did not think much of it. However, I was advised to go get it analyzed by a professional. My team physician ordered every test under the sun just to be safe. I kept saying to myself “I am fine” because if you say it enough you will actually start to believe it.
Until a few days later, I got a call from my doctor at 7am that would change my life forever. As I sat there in his office, I watched the doctor walk in with hesitation. He sat in front of me and said “I do not know how to tell you this, but your CT shows that you have three masses in your chest. I can not say for certain but it does look cancerous. We will need to undergo further testing in order to confirm.” At that point, my heart stopped and I immediately went into shock. I heard nothing and felt nothing. It was like my whole body went numb. A wave of tears came over me and I had no idea where my path would lead next. Later that week, the biopsy results confirmed it was Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
At that point I decided it was time to get into the game plan. I did not do any online searches of my diagnosis, I just put my game face on and decided I was going to beat this. Four months of chemotherapy was the course of treatment my oncologist prescribed. Going into chemotherapy I had no idea what it entailed. I saw the nurses come in and out of my room to hook me up to four different drugs that would essentially poison my body. The way the nurses gowned up to even touch these drugs was nerve-racking. After my first treatment I needed a push to be more positive. That’s when I came up with my goal; I wanted to continue to play hockey. Therefore, I built a gym in my garage and asked the local ice rink in Orlando if they had any free ice time I could reserve. I tried to do something everyday between my treatments in order to keep my mind sharp and my body active. The light at the end of the tunnel started to shine once I had something to work towards. However, this journey did not come without its challenges.
My second chemotherapy treatment came with some side effects I was not expecting. They tell you that your hair will fall out and that you may become nauseous. I never thought my girlfriend would find me seizing in bed, only to also go into respiratory arrest after that. This happened twice in the next 4 hours. I woke up the next day with fogginess and no recollection of what occurred. I was told I stopped breathing, turned blue, and had chest compressions performed on me by my own girlfriend. Honestly, I think it was a blessing I did not recall any of this because all I wanted to do was get back on the ice. After some more doctors appointments and clearances I was back at the rink doing what I love to do.
After three months of treatment, I was told I was in remission after my most recent PET scan and would do one more round of chemotherapy to really bury it into the ground. Hearing that news made me the happiest man alive. The days of feeling nauseous, the constant body aches and the everyday uncertainty would finally be over. On October 28th, 2022, I finally rang the bell announcing to the world I was cancer free! What a feeling it was walking up to the bell while all of my family and friends were cheering with excitement. Being surprised by my team in the lobby was the icing on the cake. I was at a loss for words with the outpouring support.
Hockey has been my motivation throughout this journey and I plan for it to be my future. Without my passion for the sport I’m not sure what would have helped push me through treatment. It was a rollercoaster of events and it completely reshaped my outlook on life. I hope someone learns from my experience and maybe it pushes them to listen to their body and get checked out. I was lucky we caught it early and my support system was rock solid. I would not be where I am at today if it wasn’t for who I surrounded myself with. My family, friends, healthcare team, and hockey organization with the Orlando Solar Bears catapulted me across the finish line. I plan to make my comeback on the ice shortly and can’t thank everyone enough for their support. This New Year’s, will have a different appreciation for the year past even more excitement for the year to come. Let’s play some hockey!