The Saskatoon Blades will have a little extra motivation when they hit the ice this season as they play for one of their own.
Locker room attendant Bobby Kirkness was recently diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. It’s his second time with the disease after being treated for leukemia in 2016.
This time, however, surgery is not an option and Kirkness is facing a terminal prognosis.
As a show of support, the Blades will wear special “BK” helmet decals throughout the abbreviated Western Hockey League season. The team has also added Kirkness’s initials and a purple ribbon to their workout apparel.
“It means the world to me. I’ve kind of been walking on air for the last 10 days ever since I found out about this and it’s pretty hard not to be positive when you have a group like that and family and friends behind you,” Kirkness said.
It’s not the first time the Blades have rallied around the longtime volunteer. When Kirkness had leukemia the team named its annual pre-season tournament after him and each year since, the winning team has been presented with the Kirkness Cup.
Since he can’t join the team in the East Division hub center in Regina, the Blades came up with the helmet decals as a way to ensure his presence will still be felt at the rink.
“We felt this was something we could do to bring Bobby with us. I know in true Bobby fashion he was taken aback by it but he deserves this,” associate general manager Steve Hildebrand said in a video posted by the team on social media.
The Blades and Kirkness’s son, Brennan, have also established a GoFundMe campaign for Kirkness, who is foregoing chemotherapy in favour of an alternative treatment, the cost of which is not covered by insurance.
“When I was sick five years ago, the chemo worked. The kind of cancer I had, chemo was quite sensitive to that and it worked good and (the cancer) healed. This time they basically told me because I’d had cancer before and that it was in a bad spot that (chemo) may prolong my life by two months or three months and I just wasn’t prepared to be sick for half the time I may have to be around,” he said.
Kirkness’s treatment features a heavy dose of natural supplements. He takes upwards of 30 pills three times a day.
“It’s all about getting your body back to where it should be so it can heal itself,” he said.
Although he’s been given only a few months to live, Kirkness remains upbeat and focused on getting back to work with the team when it returns to its home arena next season.
“I’m so confident about this protocol that I’m following that maybe I’ll be the oldest dressing room guy in the WHL,” he joked.
In the meantime he’ll be watching the Blades from afar, knowing that a little piece of him will be along for the ride.
“It’s going to be pretty cool the first time I watch them live or whatever, and to see that it’s going to be pretty touching,” he said.
“I feel so fortunate and so lucky to be able to help out there when I can and be able to do what I do with the kids, and for them to do that for me has been such a wonderful thing for me and my family.”