The hit that threatened Jake Leamer’s hockey career 17 months ago might have been a blessing in disguise.
In an October 2012 Metropolitan League game, a hard hit sent Leamer, then of the Central Penn Panthers, hard into the boards.
After immediately feeling a burning sensation in his neck, Leamer was handled cautiously. He left the ice at the Ice Line Quad Rinks in West Chester, Pa. on a stretcher and backboard.
Tests fairly quickly revealed that he had not suffered any major injuries, but examinations in the hospital that night began the monitoring of a different problem in Leamer’s neck.
The early detection of oversized nodules that turned out to be thyroid cancer growing inside his neck might have saved Leamer’s life.
“I thought it was an unnecessary hit,” Leamer said. “I had just cleared the puck out of the corner on the penalty kill. It was a late hit; a few seconds later I got hit up high.”
And one that, in an odd-way, was well-timed for Leamer.
“I hate to say it, but I’m glad I got hit from behind like that,” Leamer said. “It’s not something you would wish for.
“In the end, it helped me out and saved my life.”
After missing only a week with a concussion in the 2012-13 season, Leamer went back to playing hockey. He completed the Met League season before the continuation of tests determined that he had thyroid cancer, one of the most curable forms of the disease when detected early.
Leamer underwent surgery in May 2013 and headed to Walpole, Mass. early in what continues to be an ongoing process of regulation medication levels. Leamer recently completed the first of what he plans to be two seasons with the Walpole Express in the Eastern Hockey League.
The 19-year-old from Mertztown, Pa. interrupts a night of sleep each morning at 4 to take Synthroid, a medication designed to compensate for the hormonal imbalances created by living without a thyroid gland.
Roommate Logan Hockley, another Express defenseman from nearby Lebanon, Pa. and a former Panthers teammate as well, is a sounding board who knows Leamer well enough to help him monitor when extreme mood swings are warning him that it is time to adjust medication levels.
“I have to take it the rest of my life,” Leamer said. “I would fly off the handle pretty easily when the levels are off, whether it was in the weight room or on the ice.”
Otherwise, Leamer continues down the same path he was on before the revelation.
Spending the winters in Massachusetts is part of the process for the 2013 high school graduate, who hopes to play college hockey. He is about to start online courses to continue his education while hoping the time with the Express creates more exposure to college coaches.
Between seasons now, Leamer is hard at work off the ice. He does not think the discovery and surgery cost him much in terms of hockey, but he is at the gym each day building his body to possibly be stronger for his next Eastern League season.
“The season went well,” said Leamer, who had one assist while appearing in 28 of 44 regular-season games and one of the two playoff games for Walpole (13-22-7-2), “but, at times I would get tired or my mind would be all over the place.”
Leamer just feels fortunate to be in a position to be able to concentrate on improving as a hockey player.
“It was pretty scary,” he said. “Initially it was tough, but speaking with my surgeon, she said it was not anything to be too concerned about because it was easily treatable. … I was so lucky to catch it that early.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.