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Published October 08 2007

Leafs forward Jason Blake has rare form of leukemia

TORONTO – Maple Leafs forward Jason Blake, a former Moorhead High School and University of North Dakota standout, has a rare form of leukemia that he says is highly treatable.

The 34-year-old player said Monday he has begun treatment and will still be able to perform at a high level. He announced his condition after talking to teammates at practice. He said he has started taking a pill daily that “has proven to be very effective in controlling this cancer.”

“The prognosis, and certainly the expectations of my physician, myself and my family, is that I will live a long, full and normal life,” he said in a statement on the team’s Web site.

Team doctor Noah Forman said the disease – chronic myelogenous leukemia – is a slow-growing cancer of the white blood cells. About 500 new cases are diagnosed each year in Canada.

Blake is in no immediate danger and shouldn’t miss any playing time, according to team doctors.

“This situation will not impact my ability to live my life as I otherwise would, and will not affect my ability to perform at my highest level for the Toronto Maple Leafs,” Blake said. “I’m looking forward to my first season with the Leafs and helping our club compete for the Stanley Cup.”

Blake scored 40 goals last season for the New York Islanders and signed a $20 million, five-year deal with Toronto in the offseason. The four-time 20-goal scorer had 40 goals and 29 assists last year with the Islanders.

Blake missed the last 13 games of the 2000-01 season with the Islanders to be with his pregnant wife, who was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. She gave birth in April 2001, two weeks early, to a girl and later had throat surgery to remove a tumor that turned out to be benign.

“Jason will be able to continue to play fully with the team and will be monitored closely by both the team’s physician and his CML specialist,” Forman said.

While in the prime of his career with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Hockey Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease, a form of cancer that attacks the lymph nodes. He began radiation treatment in February 1993 and returned to the lineup a month later.

Hours after receiving his last radiation treatment, Lemieux flew to Philadelphia and had a goal and assist in his first game in two months. He went on to win his fourth NHL scoring title despite missing 24 games, more than one-quarter of the season.

Current Montreal Canadiens captain Saku Koivu also resumed his career following abdominal cancer and missing most of the 2001-02 season. He recovered in time for the playoffs, where he had 10 points in 12 games and led the Canadiens to the conference semifinals.

Leafs forward Jason Blake has rare form of leukemia 20071008