Theodore’s cancer scare
by Andrew Podnieks|17 SEP 2019
Moments before receiving the bad news about his blood test in May: Canadian forward Shea Theodore with the silver medal around his neck congratulates Niko Ojamaki and the Finnish team.
photo: Matt Zambonin / HHOF-IIHF Images
We all know about the IIHF’s doping control room. We know that after the games a player is selected by the IIHF and is taken to a room where he submits a sample, in the past mostly urine samples, more recently blood samples.

We have never, however, known doping control to be a life saver, but with Shea Theodore’s story coming to light, we do now.

Theodore is a Canadian NHL defenceman who won gold for his country at the 2013 U18 Worlds and won gold again two years later at the World Juniors. He played for Canada a third time this past May at the 2019 IIHF Ice Hockey World Championship in Slovakia, and that’s where things got scary.

Recall that Theodore’s NHL team, the Vegas Golden Knights, lost to San Jose in the first round of last spring’s playoffs. He and teammates Jonathan Marchessault and Mark Stone promptly accepted an invitation to play for Canada at the Worlds, and the three contributed to a successful run by the team in Kosice and Bratislava. (Indeed, Stone was named tournament MVP.)

Theodore was selected for doping control after the team’s extraordinary quarter-finals victory against Switzerland (recall that Damon Severson tied the game for Canada with less than a second left in regulation). Canada advanced to the gold-medal game, losing to Finland, 3-1, and settling for silver. 

As the Canadian players left the ice with their medals, their season over and summer beginning, an IIHF representative touched Theodore on the arm and asked him to follow. Off they went to the doping room where the IIHF’s representatives were there to meet the player.

The news went from shocking to impossible. He had failed the doping test. 

Theodore couldn’t believe this because he simply never took drugs of any sort. The only thing he could think was, “What weird protein shake did I drink?”

Then, another whammy. 

He was told him that his failed test was for hCG, a hormone usually found in women during pregnancy or more seldom in men who have testicular cancer. Stunned, Theodore flew home where he had another round of blood tests, and the laboratory’s results were confirmed. 

Shea Theodore, a very healthy, 24-year-old NHL star, had cancer.

“Now it was time for the toughest part,” Theodore explained in his personal account of this entire event in The Players’ Tribune. “Having to call my girlfriend and my parents to tell them the news. Those were very emotional conversations, especially the one with my girlfriend — because she has nearly lost family members to cancer. It’s touched my own family as well. My grandmother beat breast cancer because of early detection, and my grandfather has beaten both kidney and prostate cancer.”

Theodore had surgery immediately and doctors were able to remove the entire cancerous growth. Post-op, he had a biopsy done on what was extracted, and the results showed, as Thedore explained, “a mixed germ cell tumor: embryonal and seminoma, stage I.”
While the embryonal component can be very aggressive and spread to abdominal lymph nodes, mine was caught early because of the comprehensive blood testing they conduct at the Worlds.
Shea Theodore
Canadian national team player
After a full recovery, Theodore is back with the Knights, preparing for the upcoming season and attending training camp as he would any other year.  He has been through hell and back, and after the scare of his life he is fully healthy and ready to play hockey again. But blessed by good fortune, he is also very philosophical about events of the last four months. 

“I strongly believe after what happened this summer that everything happens for a reason,” he said with the conviction of someone whose life was saved by blind luck.
Imagine if the Knights had won that playoff series and continued deeper into the playoffs. 

Imagine if Theodore had not accepted the invitation to play for Canada at the Worlds. 

Imagine if he was NOT one of the players selected for doping during the tournament.

He would still be at camp today, still be playing in the NHL, and still be in great shape. But inside his body, a cancer would be festering in a way that would end his career early, and perhaps his life.

“Now, I wake up every single morning and I’m just happy that I get the chance to put on my skates and do what I love, and see the people that I love, and laugh with the boys,” he concluded.

The word “doping” will forever mean something new now, something positive, something life-saving. And this hockey season, no matter who is your favourite team or country, every fan will be cheering at least a little bit for Shea Theodore. 

Cancer survivor.