BY JAMES COOK
TRAVERSE CITY — Two days after making the varsity hockey team at Nichols College, Shane Totten heard the word you never want to hear from a doctor.
Specifically, he was diagnosed with stage 3A Hodgkins lymphoma.
"It was definitely life-changing," Totten said.
Fortunately, the prognosis is pretty good for the former Traverse City West hockey star and 2010 grad. About as good as it can get with cancer.
"The prognosis is good," said Totten, 21.
Doctors told him he has a 90 percent chance of remission and 75-80 percent chance of a cure.
That doesn't mean the road isn't a long one.
He's through the first of six cycles of chemotherapy. Always a fairly light-skinned redhead, Totten looks even more pale. His voice is weary.
The diagnosis came on Oct. 22. Suddenly, scoring goals wasn't nearly as important.
"People say all the time, 'Don't take things for granted' and 'Live in the moment,' as stuff like that," Totten said. "It really hits home when you get something like this. You never think it's going to be you. One day you turn around, and your whole life is turned over."
Each session of chemo takes up the bulk of a day.
To give a sense of how difficult it can be, Totten has to take two different anti-nausea medications at the start of each session. Sometimes it takes eight hours, he said.
He has 10 more visits scheduled over the next five months.
"It's supposed to be very curable," Totten said. "That's what I've been hinging everything on, and not trying to lose my head thinking about it too much. Just weighing on the 90 percent chance."
Totten would be the first of three members of the TC West hockey family to face major challenges this year. Trevor Franklin suffered a broken vertebrae in a November car accident — also right after making the team in tryouts — and Erik Anton was diagnosed with transverse myelitis two weeks ago and is recovering from the rare affliction that left him paralyzed from the chest down for a week.
"I know what he's going through, definitely," Totten said. "Just being able to play and then not being able to. It definitely opens up your eyes to what is important."
Nichols sent Totten a team jacket in Traverse City, where he's staying for treatment. It arrived in the mail Monday, and he wore it to his first skate in months that same day at Howe Arena.
"I've been trying to (get out)," Totten said. "It's hard being out, especially doing chemo. I can't really be in too sickly of an environment. I'm trying to get out as much as I can. I went to the (West vs.) Reps game last week."
Over 1,000 plastic bracelets were made with his name and "Kick Lymphoma's Butt" on them. He was given 500 of them, and is almost out already.
"They had a game for me where they donated the money to Livestrong," Totten said of Nichols College.
The road to playing college hockey was a long one for Totten.
Coming out of high school as a high-scoring center, he signed to play at Finlandia when the Upper Peninsula school started a new hockey program. A semester into his freshman year, he left to play for the Flint Junior Generals for a season and then for the Soo Eagles last year before heading to Massachusetts to play for Nichols.
There, he made the team, was given jersey No. 13 and roomed with defenseman Blake Bishop.
Both would face major challenges. Bishop was discovered to have a heart problem.
"They put us in the same room and we didn't know each other," Totten said. "And then we both had these life-altering issues."
Totten said Bishop, a junior for the Bison, is scheduled for heart surgery later this week.
"It's just crazy," Totten said. "Just one day, all of the sudden he had heart issues. He went to the doctor, and he has a birth defect."
"Not too many of the guys on our current team know Shane," West coach Jeremy Rintala said.
A lot of them don't know him, but they know of him.
He's West's all-time points (101) and assists (53) leader and is second in goals (48) and is one of just five first-team all-state picks to wear the Titan jersey. He also stood out as a hard-hitting safety on the West football team.
"When I first heard about that, I was in shock," Franklin said of Totten's diagnosis. "I was like, 'He's young. He's too young.'"