When it comes to hockey, the Calgary Flames’ T.J. Brodie knows the battle he faces every time he steps on the ice.
But now, the defenceman and his fiancée are taking on a different kind of fight, off the ice.
Brodie’s fiancée, Amber De Bakker, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) last October.
It came as a shock for the couple, who grew up together in Ontario.
“I didn’t know how to react,” Brodie said. “I didn’t know exactly what it was or how it affects you or how quick it happens.”
De Bakker reacted like most would when diagnosed with a disease.
“You don’t really think it’s going to be you,” she said.
“You go through phases, like you’re upset, you’re mad and then you learn to accept it.”
De Bakker said she had symptoms for several years before she was officially diagnosed.
“My first symptom was I had optic neuritis, so I lost my vision for about a month and a half,” she said. “The following summer, I was numb from my waist down.”
But facing a new normal in their relationship just brought Amber and T.J. closer together as a couple.
“Sometimes you just don’t want to bring it up because if she’s not thinking about it – it’s good,” Brodie said. “Because she’s not worrying.”
“I was just more worried about being a burden eventually, you know?” De Bakker said. “Because it’s just so unpredictable. I didn’t want to put that on him. I think we had only been dating for maybe two years when I had my first symptoms. So it definitely puts life into perspective and makes you realize the important things – your health.”
WATCH:Amber De Bakker and Calgary Flames goaltending coach Jordan Sigalet join Global Calgary with details on the upcoming Putting MS on Ice event
For Brodie the MS means learning early on about the meaning of “in sickness and in health.” He proposed two months after De Bakker was diagnosed but had been waiting much longer for the right moment.
“I actually had the ring for six months,” Brodie laughed. “There’s more to our relationship than whether her vision is perfect… that’s not who I am.”
Getting engaged was not only an exciting moment for De Bakker, but also a proud moment for her father.
“I think my dad was just like, ‘what a great man’ because he (T.J.) doesn’t know what the future’s going to bring with MS,” she said.
Talking about feelings might not be the number one thing on an NHL hockey player’s mind everyday, but having a loved one battling MS has definitely taken Brodie out of his comfort zone.
“(It) makes me have to talk a lot more than I probably want to,” Brodie laughed. “Especially about serious things like that and it makes you think.
“I think as a couple, communication, we’ve definitely had more of that. Probably a lot more heart to hearts than I would have liked to have had.”
The road ahead might be unpredictable for the young couple, who are only in their late twenties. But fear of the unknown comes with every relationship. They don’t know what the future holds as far as MS but it eases their mind knowing there are options in terms of treatment, so De Bakker can keep living her life.
This is their story and one they want to share and fight through together.
“If we can let other people know that there are other people in the same shoes that went through it and that it’s not the end of the world,” Brodie said.
“There’s so many people dealing with it and everyone has their own story,” De Bakker said.