Tomahawks' Tien overcomes cancer to play sport he loves
October 22, 2013
By Dave Sutor, Tribune-Democrat
Even tiring bag skates don’t bother Eric Tien much anymore after the physically- and mentally-exhausting fight he endured just to stay alive.
Tien, a Michigan resident, was diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer that targets skeletal muscle tissue, in 2009. It aggressively spread to his kidneys, lymph nodes, bone marrow and other areas. Six months of chemotherapy, six weeks of radiation and other treatments temporarily weakened his body, but ultimately left him cancer free.
He is now back to playing hockey, as a member of the Johnstown Tomahawks, a team in the North American Hockey League (NAHL).
And, like with many teams, the Tomahawks occasionally hold bag skates during which players go through demanding skating drills until they are worn out. Tien doesn’t mind though. “It’s freedom to be on the ice instead of being confined to a hospital,” he said.
The thought of playing hockey again - bag skates and all - motivated Tien during his long medical battle.
“I like the game so much that I couldn’t quit,” said Tien, a forward. “I just kept going. To be honest with you, playing during chemotherapy was helpful because it’s hard to separate yourself from being a cancer patient and a real person. I wanted to be a real person. Playing hockey helps you be a real person, not just a cancer patient. A cancer patient’s life is pretty boring. If you can do anything to get your mind away from being put into a hospital for five days straight it’s really, really beneficial.”
Now, Tien, 20, is going to get the chance to help others fighting the disease.
This weekend, the Tomahawks will take part in Face Off Against Cancer, an event, co-sponsored by Conemaugh Health System, that will benefit local cancer patients. On Friday, the team will host Pink at the Rink, in recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, at the Cambria County War Memorial Arena. Pink rally towels will be given out to the first 500 people in attendance.