Former Bobcat Donovan Gayle has been undergoing chemotherapy treatment in a Winnipeg hospital to battle leukemia.
One of the best decisions Donovan Gayle ever made was coming to Brandon.
At first, the move was an opportunity for the Scarborough, Ont., native to get a physical education degree and continue playing basketball by joining the Brandon University Bobcats. The 6-foot-4 forward played four years before serving as an assistant coach in the 2012-13 campaign, and made great friends in the process. It’s those friends and the community that are now helping Gayle — known as Deebo — get through the biggest battle of his life.
Gayle, who made the last slam dunk in Canada West play at the old BU gymnasium, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia — an aggressive cancer of the blood — back on June 9.
It came as a huge shock to the affable 32-year-old as he has always been physically active, didn’t smoke and ate healthily. He learned of his illness when he went to a walk-in clinic in Winnipeg after coughing up blood following a camping trip, thinking it was a minor chest infection. The doctor suggested he go to emergency, where blood tests were ordered. The tests showed he had cancer.
"It was really serious," Gayle said via telephone from Winnipeg. "When I found out, my plan the next day was to go home and get it treated in Toronto, but the doctor said it’s pretty serious and they want to treat it right away without waiting. He said to me that he wouldn’t feel right to put me on a plane because anything could happen. He said it’s my decision if I wanted to go home, but he’d rather I didn’t go home and they got started right away. I got admitted that day in the hospital."
Gayle was told the treatment would be long and hard as it involved four rounds of chemotherapy — one in the hospital and three as an outpatient.
He started his chemotherapy June 11 in good spirits, and his girlfriend Michelle Jean-Paul made sure to let those close to him know of his battle. It was then that Gayle started to receive get-well wishes from the people he had touched during his five years in Brandon. The support from the community, Jean-Paul and his family is what helped Gayle get through the early treatments.
"The first week was tough," he said. "I kind of felt if you have a chance to deal with it then deal with it and some friends came in from Brandon and were calling me from home and praying on the phone. It was tough to deal with. I cried every time I talked to a friend for like a week. Jordan (Reaves) came in and as soon as he walked into the room he cried and that was tough."
After his seven days of chemotherapy, Gayle started to accept that he was sick, which helped him get through the very tough first month he spent in the hospital.
Gayle wasn’t allowed out of his unit in the hospital, spending most of his time in bed. When his hair started to fall out from the chemotherapy, he decided to shave it all off. That proved extremely difficult since Gayle has had his hair braided tight to his head for the last 12 years.
He frequently woke up during the night, had the hiccups for two weeks and lost 30 pounds. It has taken Gayle a while to get used to not looking like the man he used to see in the mirror, the man who put up 462 points, 247 rebounds and had 61 steals in 82 career conference games for the Bobcats.
Although the treatments are going well, doctors have found an extra chromosome that puts Gayle at intermediate risk of relapsing, so he has decided to boost his immune system with a bone marrow stem cell transplant.
They tested his sister, Marlene, to see if she was a match and if she would donate. Despite a 25 per cent chance of a sibling being a match, Marlene came through and she will come to make her donation later this month.
To help Gayle with the cost of bringing in Marlene and for the costs of his medical expenses of the last three months, Brandon supporters have stepped up with a pair of fundraising events.
The first one, Doin’ it for Deebo, will be held Saturday at The 40. The event is open for anyone 18 and older and costs $10, with the doors opening at 9 p.m. Tickets are available at the Trails West Inn and BU’s Healthy Living Centre.
The second event will be held at Smitty’s Sportsline Lounge in the Shoppers Mall on Sunday from 6-8 p.m. Tickets are $20 and get the buyer a drink, wings and spuds. There will also be a rainbow auction and a 50/50 draw. Tickets are available at Smitty’s, the Healthy Living Centre or by calling Kathy Gross at 204-721-0994.
Gayle, who remains extremely positive that he will beat leukemia, didn’t expect this kind of reaction from the Brandon community and he’s extremely grateful.
"It means a lot to me," he said. "I’m friends with a lot of people, but I didn’t think I touched that many people that people would go to this extent to see me get well and do the little things. It means so much to me."
Donations can be made at dimesfordeebo.com. He is also raising money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society of Canada through the Light the Night Walk and, after receiving numerous transfusions himself, encourages people to donate blood.
Gayle, who coached club basketball while he was in Brandon, is so touched by the generosity of the people of the Wheat City that he has set one major goal for himself this week: Come to Brandon so he can attend the fundraisers and thank everyone for their support in person. He’s checked with his doctors, and right now it looks like he’ll be able to do that.
"I just want to come back and say thank you," he said. "It means a lot to me seeing so many people reaching out to me on Facebook and getting text messages and phone calls saying ‘Donovan, I’m praying for you. You’re in my thoughts.’ It means so much to me and that’s one of the reasons why I know I’m going to get through this, with all the people praying for me."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition September 4, 2013