Back on the ice after a cancer diagnosis

Dylan Tait played for almost every team in town, until cancer struck. Now he’s making plans for next season.

Daniel Wood/Sportsnet

Daniel Wood/Sportsnet

Dylan Tait was hitting the hay on a Friday night back in early November. A few hours before, he had been in net for the University of Lethbridge and stopped 31 shots in the Pronghorns’ 5-3 win over the University of Regina. It was his fifth game of the season and first win. He knew he had the start the next day in a back-to-back set, knew he needed a good night’s sleep.

Tait was about to doze off when he felt an unusual pain around his groin. Maybe it’s not so alarming for a goaltender who regularly has to drop into a butterfly or do the splits to make a save. This time, though, Tait knew it was something more than a pull or a strain. He felt around and found he had a lump on his testicle.

“I called the Alberta health hotline,” Tait says. “[A nurse] gave me a list for the symptoms of testicular cancer. I checked off each one. She told me that it’s the most common form of cancer in my demographic, men 15 to 34. Needless to say that I didn’t get a lot of sleep that night.”

Tait didn’t mention his physical worries when he showed up exhausted at the arena the next day. Predictably, he was less than sharp and ended up getting pulled after giving up four goals. Only then, he let the team doctor know. By Monday, he was diagnosed and on Wednesday surgeons removed his testicle.

Within a couple of weeks, Tait heard back from oncologists—the cancer had spread and he began a schedule of chemotherapy. “It’s been tough at times and I’ve had to drop down to three classes,” says Tait, a former member of the CHL Lethbridge Hurricanes who has earned CIS Academic All-Canadian honours as an undergrad in kinesiology and psychology. “My professors have been pretty understanding and supportive.”

While Tait hasn’t been on skates since his diagnosis, life has moved on off the ice. Over New Year’s, he became engaged to his long-time girlfriend, Kendra Sutter, daughter of Rich Sutter, one of the twins in Viking, Alta.’s sprawling hockey clan. “Kendra’s dad, his twin brother, Ron, and my father [Gord], were linemates with the Lethbridge Broncos,” Tait says. “I’ve known her since we were little kids. It took me years to work up the nerve to ask her out—even though everyone in our families knew how much I liked her. We’ve been going out for years now, so in December I asked Rich if I could ask her to marry me and he gave me his blessing.”


Tait’s chemotherapy sessions became more intense in the new year. The new regimen meant fistfuls of drugs that cause nausea, fistfuls of anti-nausea drugs and still other fistfuls of prescriptions that allow him to tolerate the anti-nausea drugs’ side effects. He finished his last chemo session two weeks ago and had the best possible news on a follow-up visit. “[The oncologist] told me I’m cancer-free,” he says. “I’ll be going back for CT scans, ultrasounds and blood work every two months, but otherwise I’m just trying to do some major catch-up in school.”

In the face of health worries that would crack most people, Tait remained remarkably upbeat and is now looking forward to a graduation, a wedding and another season with the Pronghorns.

“I’m just thankful that I have one year of eligibility left,” he says. “I’d hate to have getting pulled from that game against [the University of] Regina be my last CIS game.”

Hometown Hockey, with host Ron MacLean, will stop in Lethbridge on March 28 and 29. The show airs March 28 on CityTV. For more, visit HometownHockey.com.

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