​​​​​Image of Patrick Keeley and his wife
Patrick Keeley, wearing his 2012 jersey, and his wife at the 2014 Road Hockey to Conquer Cancer fundraising event (Photo: Ingrid Yu/The PMCF).

Patrick Keeley loves a good physical challenge. He has the drive and instincts of a competitive athlete and his "happy place" is the gym.

While physical strength has always been important to Keeley, he found himself tapping into a previously unknown level of mental fortitude when he was suddenly diagnosed with a rare form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. At the time, Keeley was living in Chicago with his wife and two newborn children.

Now a survivor thanks to the compassionate care provided by Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, Keeley participates every year in Road Hockey to Conquer Cancer. The dawn-to-dusk hockey fundraising event celebrated its 4th year and raised $2.2 million in support of cancer research at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, one of the top five cancer research centres in the world. 

Adapting to change

Ambitious with a career in finance and capital markets, Keeley had moved to Chicago on a work transfer assignment. Keeley was stunned when he heard the life-changing news so far away from home.

"It came as a great shock to me. I was relatively young and in my 30s," said Keeley. "Given the severity of the diagnosis, we decided to move back to Canada to be closer to family."

Due to the progression of his cancer, Keeley had to begin treatment in Chicago before he relocated back to his hometown. Since he was to receive the majority of his treatment in Toronto, Keeley asked his doctors in Chicago to consult with his doctor-to-be at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.

"When I told these doctors in Chicago that I would be treated by Dr. Michael Crump, they told me that he's one of the best in the world," said Keeley. "They said that I was going to be in great hands." Dr. Michael Crump is an internationally-recognized hematologist and the lymphoma site leader at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.

Since Keeley had a form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma that was not known to respond well to normal chemotherapy, Dr. Crump recommended a type of unconventional chemotherapy that he felt would respond effectively.

"[The doctors in Chicago] weren't even aware of this combination," said Keeley. "It was Dr. Crump that made them aware of it at the time."

Pushing through the effects of chemotherapy

Keeley recalls the feeling he had before his first chemotherapy session.  

"I had that same sort of adrenaline rush I had as an athlete… the butterflies you have when you first go into competition where you're determined to win," said Keeley. "I had that same feeling when I went in for my first chemotherapy session. It was like, 'Okay. Let's do this thing, bring it on'."

Despite his positive attitude, Keeley acknowledges that chemotherapy can be incredibly taxing on the body.

"The effects of chemotherapy really want to take you down in terms of your general well-being and how you feel," he said. "You can't stop yourself from not feeling well and it's part of the program unfortunately."

Doing his best to stay active, Keeley would take his IV machine and unplug it from the wall so he could walk laps around the hospital until the battery was about to wear out.

"I'd also hook up all of these resistance bands to my bed so I could work out in the hospital," he Keeley. "I felt that exercise and being outdoors was more of an uplifting experience. But it's hard to do. You have to get outside of your comfort zone because otherwise you give into what chemotherapy does to you.  Which is making you feel crappy and wanting to be stuck inside or in your bed."

With his family in mind, Keeley was determined to keep his physical and mental well-being as uplifted as possible despite these circumstances that were out of his control.

Memorable care from a memorable institution

When asked about the care he received at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, Keeley lights up.

"Right across the board, the cancer centre is such an impressive institution," he said. "Dr. John Kuruvilla, who works with Dr. Crump, was my point person on a day-to-day basis during my treatment. He came to see me in my hospital room every day and he's the person I see when I have my checkups. I consider him my friend."

Impressed by the level of care at every patient contact point, Keeley says that the treatment he received in Chicago was a stark contrast to the compassionate care he received at the cancer centre.

"The cancer centre was a massive step up in quality for me in every way," he said. "The nurses are phenomenal. Many people forget about the nurses but they are the people on the frontlines, working with patients and treating them and caring for them and offering compassion and comfort."

Game on, cancer!

Today, Keeley leads a successful career as a managing director in financial risk management and client services. He uses his dedication to helping people both in his career and to advocate for cancer research at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.

"I was so indebted for my wellbeing and for achieving remission," said Keeley. "I wanted to give back."

When Road Hockey to Conquer Cancer launched four years ago, it was the perfect fit.

"I love that it's real grassroots stuff," said Keeley. "It's something that anybody can do, and involves a lot of camaraderie and team spirit. You feel a bond between all of the players instead of feeling adversarial because you're all there for the same reason. You've all accomplished something in the spirit of conquering cancer."

Having the chance to play with celebrities at the event is another ongoing bonus for Keeley. Darryl Sittler, arguably the greatest Toronto Maple Leaf of all-time, was one of many hockey celebrities at the fundraising event.  Sittler also happens to be Keeley's favourite hockey player.

In 2015, Road Hockey to Conquer Cancer event will induct its first Hall of Fame members. The milestone 5th annual event will issue a global challenge and attempt to break the Guinness World Record for participants in a road hockey event. This will become The Road Hockey to Conquer Cancer.

To find out more about Road Hockey to Conquer Cancer benefiting Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, please visit www.teamuptoconquercancer.ca.

To learn more about the effects of chemotherapy, please visit www.theprincessmargaret.ca/en/PatientsFamilies/ClinicsAndCentres/ChemoCentre/Pages/welcome-to-chemotherapy.aspx

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