The 3rd annual Tongue in Cheek Ball Hockey Tournament at Le Rinque in TMR on Saturday was about far more than just putting the ball in the net. About 70 players came together to raise money for the Jewish General Hospital. They all came together because of Erik Heft, who wanted to give back after beating tongue cancer at age 24.
“I kind of noticed one day a lump on my tongue. It looked like something that would’ve happened if I bit my tongue really hard,” Heft told Global News.
When then news came that it was cancer, his close-knit family was sent reeling.
“I was like this isn’t happening. This is not a thing that happens to my family, my brother. This is heartbreaking,” said Erik’s sister Sarah Heft.
“That hit hard. All of a sudden, Tuesday morning I’m going to work and my best friend has cancer,” recalled Erik’s best friend Jeremy Land.
“You have to be supportive of your son, but at the same time, you feel like your world is falling apart. But Erik was really strong. My husband and I took our cue from him. He never got down,” said Erik’s mother Marjorie Kirsch.
Heft was admitted to the Jewish General Hospital.
“Their care was unbelievable, second to none,” he recounted.
Luckily they caught his cancer early, but it wasn’t an easy road. Part of his tongue had to be removed, as well as his lymph nodes. His tongue had to be reconstructed.
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“It was like an eight-hour surgery, I believe. Maybe even nine,” Erik said.
While Heft was in the hospital recovering, he got an idea.
“I kept overhearing nurses talking about how they constantly need funding for equipment they need, to do research. I play in several ball hockey leagues. I’ve been coming to Le Rinque for years, so we said let’s do a tournament!” he said.
With the help of his friends and family, Erik created the Tongue in Cheek Ball Hockey Tournament. The 3rd edition took place on Saturday, with the teams appropriately named.
“We have Team Thyroid, Larynx, Tongue, Palette, Sinuses, Esophagus, and Pharynx,” Erik outlined through laughter.
“I’m beyond proud of Erik,” his mother said. “How he handled this whole episode of his life has been amazing.”
Even his doctors came to cheer Erik on.
“What Eric has done is really an example for people all over the country, especially given his young age,” said Michael Hier, the head of head and neck surgery at the Jewish General Hospital.
For Erik, the lesson learned out of his experience is simple.
“It made me really appreciate the little things and not take the little things for granted,” he said.
With about 70 players, a bake sale and a raffle, they expected to add significantly to the $15,000 raised for the Jewish General Hospital in the first two years of the tournament. Erik plans to add to that total for many years to come.