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In His Battle Against Cancer, Dave Strader Has Already Won

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The Stars play-by-play broadcaster returned to the booth on Saturday night in the face of his battle against bile-duct cancer

The team gave a special salute to Dave Strader in the broadcast booth after their overtime win Saturday.
Pat Iversen, SBNation

“Welcome to Dallas Stars hockey; I’m Dave Strader. Has it really been 283 days since I’ve said that? How long I’ve waited to be here next to you, Daryl Reaugh, and Razor, this just feels right to be here and getting ready to call a game.”

With those words, play-by-play man Dave Strader re-took his seat in the Dallas Stars broadcast booth on Saturday night. A battle with cholangiocarcinoma, a rare form of bile-duct cancer, has kept him away from the job since his diagnosis just after last season ended, but a break in his treatment allowed him to return to Dallas for what is scheduled to be a five-game slate of games.

It may seem like a minor reprieve in the midst of the serious battle. In a series of interviews leading up to the game, Strader spoke about the serious side effects he’s had from some of the chemotherapy as well as the uphill battle he and his medical team have had finding the right approach to treatment. A few weeks of slipping back into his old routine can’t fix all that.

But Strader being able to be the person he was before the diagnosis, and the person he remains despite it, has an impact beyond quantification.

Identity is something we casually reference a lot in sports. Jamie Benn is a power forward, Tyler Seguin a sniper and Antoine Roussel an agitator. But as we see when players have difficulty retiring, it’s also something that becomes built into the fabric of personal identity.

The same is true for people on the periphery of the team. Daryl Reaugh is a former player and current wordsmith, Jim Nill a calm and savvy dealmaker. And it’s true outside of the context of sports as well. You, yes you, probably define yourself by a series of adjectives that includes your career and personality, and it is to a large extent in your own control.

Being seriously ill can strip that away from a person. Their identity becomes that of the illness - a cancer patient/survivor, or a person with sickle cell. And that identity is completely out of their control. They had no choice in acquiring that label, and it can become all-consuming.

People in the midst of serious illness often speak of the importance of regaining a sense of normalcy. It’s so easy to be swallowed up by the fallout of being sick - the fatigue that keeps you stuck in bed, the countless appointments that keep you away from the things you enjoy, the side effects of treatment that keep you away from your friends - that you lose the sense of what defines you as person other than that illness.

Which is why being able to come back and reaffirm that you are indeed something else completely away from the scope of the illness, whether that’s a child with a list of favorite things or a professional hockey broadcaster, is so important. It gives control back, a reinforcement of the notion that there is life beyond the clinic, beyond the disease, and one that can be lived concurrently and within control.

Here is what Strader had to say after Saturday’s theatrics:

The long-time ESPN anchor Stuart Scott lost his life to appendiceal cancer seven years after his original diagnosis. In 2014, he received the Jimmy Valvano Award for Perservence at the ESPYs, and he had an amazing speech that addressed the oft-spoken metaphor of a battle against cancer, of winning because you managed to keep up the fight.

Most meaningfully, he pointed out that dying of cancer, or of any disease, is not losing (because, as was left unstated, these diseases just don’t play fair.). Beating cancer, winning in life, is about what you do with it rather than the ultimate outcome.

You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and in the manner in which you live.

So, live. Live. Fight like hell. And when you get too tired to fight then lay down and rest and let somebody else fight for you.

By returning to the Stars broadcast booth, by being the hockey broadcaster that he has been all of his adult life, Dave Strader showed how he is living with and beyond his disease. His presence also honored those who have been fighting for him this season - Reaugh, Craig Ludwig and the entire FSSW crew and Stars organization who have kept his seat warm while allowing him to rest.

A Jamie Benn overtime goal doesn’t do the job of chemotherapy, obviously. An Antoine Roussel celebration doesn’t stop a rogue cell from dividing ad nauseum. And the outcome of a game doesn’t change the outcome of the next or most recent scan.

But for those four hours of the broadcast, for the time spent in typical preparation for the job he has spent the past 30+ years doing, he got to be Dave Strader, hockey broadcaster, again. For the next four games on the docket, he is Dave Strader, hockey broadcaster. Not a cancer survivor, not a patient, not someone waiting on doctors to find the next step, but simply a hockey broadcaster.

For those hours, he is in control of his own identity, living with and beyond anything life has thrown at him, and honoring those who have allowed him to rest when he needed.

It is a victory beyond measure.