It’s not every day that you can say that you interviewed a professional athlete – let alone a 3x Stanley Cup winner – but, I did just that. Bryan Bickell, formerly of the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks and the Carolina Hurricanes, was generous enough to share his story and experiences living with multiple sclerosis.
This interview was important to me on several levels – but most importantly, because Bryan Bickell, while a tremendously successful athlete, is still just a normal guy. He’s a 30-something year old dad, husband, and friend, who was just as scared as any of us when he learned the news of his diagnosis. But, instead of hiding behind closed doors, Bryan and his wife Amanda, are opening up and sharing their story, and how they’re helping others in a similar position. It’s no surprise why he’s been coined #BickellBrave
Name: Bryan Bickell
Tell me a little about your story and how you came to find out about your diagnosis. What were some of your pre-diagnosis symptoms?
I didn’t know for the longest time what was going on. I started feeling some pain in the right side of my body, but didn’t know what was causing it. At first, it felt like a pinched nerve and I tried to just play through it but it continued through to my hands and then down my legs. I knew then that I needed to get it looked at, and eventually learned of my MS diagnosis.
What were your immediate thoughts after you learned of your diagnosis?
“What is MS?” I didn’t know much about it, to be honest. I had a lot of questions, and as the months went on, we learned more about the treatments and what we could do to keep it from getting worse.
Amanda (Bryan’s wife), what were your thoughts when you heard the news?
I, too, asked, “What is MS?” I was very unfamiliar with the disease myself. I had so many questions and it was really hard at the beginning not being able to have all of my questions fully answered. Since symptoms vary from person to person, no one could tell me the concrete things like how long he’s had it, or if MS was the reason behind some of his previous symptoms. There were a lot of unknowns.
What were the immediate steps you took post-diagnosis?
Started researching more about the disease and learning about treatment options. We wanted to figure out what we could do to manage it. We spent time thinking through the pros and cons of different medications and what would work for me. We ultimately decided on Tysabri after discussing the risk of PML with my doctor, and made a conscious decision to tackle the diagnosis with a positive attitude.
How have you felt since going on Tysabri?
My experience with Tysabri has been positive since I started it 11 months ago, and I continue to monitor for any side effects with my doctor
What do you attribute your success to other than the medication?
Definitely having a positive attitude and outlook for the future. I know that stress and negativity can actually increase symptoms and make your condition worse, so I made a conscious choice to remain positive and to spread that optimism to others. So far, it’s been working.
Have you changed your diet or lifestyle in any way?
Not too much. Being an athlete, I’ve always tried to put the right things in my body. I aim to eating healthy, stay active, exercise and get rest. All of these things I think contribute to my success.
What’s given you hope for your future with MS?
All of the research and medicinal options have given us hope. But, I also hope that my story helps other people. I was put on this Earth to play hockey, but given this twist, I now think I can also help other people. I want to offer support and inspiration to those who need that extra push.
What’s been the best source of information for you post diagnosis?
First, I’d say my doctor. My wife also did a lot of reading and researching on various qualified MS sites, like the National MS Society, MSAA and Mayo Clinic, which really do a great job providing information to the MS community.
What advice would you give to someone who is nearly diagnosed?
Stay positive and have an optimistic attitude. It really helped me. Having a support system is really important too, whether that’s your doctor, team, or friends. The support of my wife has helped me stay on track for myself and our family.
As a father of a 1 and 3-year-old, how does MS affect you as a parent?
As rewarding as parenting can be, it can also be stressful having a 1 and 3-year-old running around. Stress brings on symptoms but I know when that happens that I need to regroup and refocus… take a breather and get back on track.
Any accomplishments you’ve particularly proud of despite having MS
I had a great run for the last 10 years playing hockey. Pretty proud of that.
Now that you’ve officially retired from the Blackhawks, what’s next for you?
I’m excited to be back home in Canada and spend time again with my kids and family. It’s been a while since we’ve been back
I’m looking forward to also sharing our story, and hopefully motivating others through our Bryan and Amanda Bickell Foundation. This past July, we recently started a new program that provides service dogs for those suffering from multiple sclerosis free of charge and we’re excited to get that going. Dogs are a great source of emotional and physical support – especially for those with MS. For those experiencing problems with stability, balance or doing simple daily tasks, our trained dogs can assist with anything from turning the lights on and off to helping you walk down the street. We’d like to help as many people as possible
That’s such a great thing you’re doing for others! How can someone take advantage? What is the process like
You’d have to apply on our website, bickellfoundation.org, and fill out an application to get started. We’re asking that applicants include a short video stating who you are and the types of services you need help with, so we can figure out the right dog to match.
If you want readers to take one thing away from this interview, what would it be?
Stay positive. There’s hope.
Thank you, Bryan and Amanda for your sharing your story and your commitment to helping others.
I encourage you all to learn more about their foundation here, and follow Bryan and Amanda on social media: Twitter @bbicks29 and @Caskenette and Instagram @bbickell and @abickell. To watch a video on Bryan and Amanda’s story, go to www.BryansFight.com.
“Faces of MS” showcases other people with MS share their experiences and success strategies for living Well and Strong to help the larger community.