Leukemia Sidelines John Divo’s Return

Leukemia sidelines hockey player’s return to rink


Waterloo Region Record

By Jeff Hicks

BADEN — John Divo’s skates were sharpened. His sticks were taped. His No. 22 jersey was pressed.

Divo felt great. His hockey comeback with the junior Kitchener Dutchmen was a go.

Then, something else returned before the 20-year-old could. His leukemia was back.

The doctor’s note allowing him to play hockey again was torn into meaningless shreds.

New tests showed abnormal cells. The results were a cruel and abnormal punishment.

“The day I was going to return to the ice, the doctor said I relapsed,” Divo said on Thursday after returning home to Baden after tests at the hospital. “It was the hardest thing. You’re so close to getting back. Then you hear the news and you just can’t believe it.”

That was only a few weeks ago.

Another satisfying and celebratory Christmas season had been short-circuited for the aspiring electrician and Conestoga College student.

A year ago, two days before the holiday, he was told he had six months worth of cancer lurking deep in his sturdy backliner bones that had just helped carry his Dutchmen team to 25 straight wins. His stamina, for one so ill, was stunning. So was the diagnosis.

He began chemotherapy on Boxing Day, determined to fight his way back.

His family had been devastated by cancer in the past. The grandfather whose name he shares, firefighter John Divo, died four years before he was born.

That John Divo fought a terrible chemical fire in Kitchener in 1987. At least four firefighters who battled that blaze went on to die of cancer. He was one of them.

The six-foot-four Divo often hears tall tales of his grandfather’s hose-and-ladder exploits from his father, also named John.

“When you go to family gatherings, everyone tells stories about him,” Divo said.

These days, young Divo’s story is being repeated as he searches for a stem cell donor that will match him perfectly and donate the blood that will help him defeat leukemia a second time.

Several swab clinics have been set up on the coming weeks, including one on Saturday at Heritage College in Hespeler. Males ages 17 to 35 are asked to get tested.

They often make the best matches.

Divo isn’t sure how difficult it will be to find his donor. He hasn’t found out the finicky details of his compatibility yet. But the key is getting a high number of people tested.

A young Cambridge girl, Katie Herron, found her match among 777 hopefuls in a clinic held last February. She got her life-saving transplant to topple recurring leukemia and eventually returned home. Other times, it has taken tens of thousands of potential donors to be checked.

“It all depends on how lucky they get,” Divo said.

Divo feels fortunate in one regard. He and Cambridge native Chris LeBrun, a 47-year-old who also needs a stem cell transplant to beat leukemia, have combined their efforts to arrange clinics to search for life-saving donors. They share the same doctor. They share the same dream of a return to good health.

LeBrun, who has worn No. 15 all his life, wants to get back to ball hockey.

Divo, who has worn No. 22 all his life, will be too old for junior hockey by the time he can recover again. On Monday, he reports for radiation treatment. He has to be in remission before he can get a stem cell transplant.

Meanwhile, Christmas is coming again. His wish list is specific. He wants to find a stem cell donor. He wants his hockey-playing life back.

“For the cancer to be gone, that’d be a pretty nice Christmas miracle.”


You all know that I am a die-hard Rockets fan, but I am also a die-hard GOJHL fan, having been watching Jr. B hockey since I was 10 years old. I will only watch the GOJHL and during the hockey season, you never know what arena RG is gonna show up at. I'm bringing you the games, news, and updates of the GOJHL. RG is on Facebook at www.facebook.com/TheRocketGirl16 and you can find me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/TheRocketGirl16 If you hear of anything about any of the teams in the GOJHL, or have questions about anything, feel free to post it. If I don't know the answer, I know how to find it.

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