Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Giving Back Goalie Irving Beat Childhood Cancer, Now He Visits Afflicted Kids

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Giving Back Goalie Irving Beat Childhood Cancer, Now He Visits Afflicted Kids

Article excerpt

In Penguins training camp on a pro tryout contract, Leland Irving is beginning to find what Pittsburgh is all about.

Skating and speed? Star players? Two excellent goaltenders atop the NHL depth chart?

Well, yeah. Irving has noticed that. But he also has begun to learn about Austin's Playroom, the Penguins' affiliation with UPMC, and franchise co-owner Mario Lemieux's charity work, through his foundation, raising money for cancer research and patient care.

Pediatric cancer is something near and dear to Irving's heart because he went through it. When Irving was 8, the Swan Hills, Alberta, native was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a rare type of cancer where malignant cells form in muscle tissue. Irving had a growth above his left ear that looked like an insect bite.

"I've heard the whole area has an unbelievable medical team and research team. Great facilities for cancer research," Irving said. "That's really cool. It's something that hits close to home with me. Anytime professional hockey players can help out, it makes such a huge difference because I remember being on the other end of that.

"I can remember Doug Weight coming into the hospital room when I was going through chemo. Those things stick with you forever."

After his diagnosis, Irving endured 13 months of chemotherapy. He missed just one practice and one game. Irving has had no subsequent problems.

The carrot after chemo came in the form of a Make-a-Wish experience that still makes Irving smile. The first part involved watching an Edmonton Oilers game from Curtis Joseph's private box. He also met his childhood idol, Kirk McLean.

Later, the Vancouver Canucks invited Irving to practice with them.

"That's something I'll never forget," Irving said.

Many hockey players, especially the Penguins, take great pride in using their fame to make children who are going through a rough time smile. For Irving, it hits closer to home. Especially when the diagnosis involves any form of cancer.

"Every chance I get, I try and get out there," Irving said. "I know what it's like. I've been on the other side and realize how much you can appreciate meeting [professional hockey players]. …

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