Book excerpt from Eddie Olczyk: Beating the Odds in Hockey and in Life
The NHL on NBC’s Eddie Olczyk was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer in Aug. 2017 and after a long journey was deemed cancer-free seven months later. Since beating cancer, the former player and current analyst has been dedicated to be an advocate for those fighting the disease and their families.
Olczyk was recently named the NHL Hockey Fights Cancer Ambassador for the 2019-20 season and his new book “Eddie Olczyk: Beating the Odds in Hockey and in Life” tells the story of his fight.
On February 21, at precisely 9:02 am, I was unhooked from my finalchemo treatment. What a relief! It was incredible to be finally done — epic. I wasdone after six months. I had a bunch of family and friends call and congratulate me and I received so many texts from the hockey and horse racing worlds with exclamation points. Diana brought me a bouquet of helium balloons shaped like horses and dogs with the words You Did It. She almost flew away because of all the balloons.
After that last round of chemo, I got rid of anything that reminded me of what I had gone through during those treatments—clothes, pillows, blankets. Anything that reeked of chemo, I disposed of. That felt really good. The week before I went to the mall and went on a shopping spree. I was about to embark on the rest of my life and the rest of my career.
It was around this time that Illinois congressman Mike Quigley spoke on the House floor and addressed my situation. He had a Blackhawks jersey with my name and number brought in for display and talked about my battle and what I had been doing to raise awareness about the need for earlier screenings and continued research to find a cure. He described me as a native son of Chicago who has exemplified the heart, grit, and the character of the city we both call home.
“Like many others who have faced cancer, he was concerned that he was letting people down and he began to question his mortality, but as he went through treatment and reflected on this ordeal Eddie started to recognize that it was okay to be scared,” Congressman Quigley said. “He knows it’s important to emphasize that there’s nothing wrong with people getting colonoscopies at an earlier age. He knows that if he can help just one individual get a checkup sooner, he will feel like his battle with cancer was worth it. To Eddie and to all fighting cancer, stay strong and know we’re with you.”
I was very grateful for him doing that. What an honor.
On March 8 I had the scan and the next day while traveling with the team to Boston, I asked Dr. Michael Terry, the Blackhawks team physician, if he had any update. He had been part of my illness from the start; I call him the captain of my doctors.
He had access to the scan on his iPhone. He looked at me and said, “Edzo, from what I can see, it looks really clean.”
I gave him a huge hug because I’d just dodged a huge bullet. After getting emotional, I took a couple of deep breaths. I wanted to yell something like what most hockey players do after they score a goal, but I was just overcome thinking about so much—my family, my kids, my friends. I just couldn’t wait to tell Diana that it looked good, but we still had to wait to hear from Dr. Mulcahy.
It was a relief and a half that it was all gone. Thank God. I was so thankful for the physicians and the team that I had and the support I had. It’s always going to be with me, but I felt okay. We had come a long way since that first meeting with Dr. Mulcahy. Yes, it was absolute hell for six months. Going through the chemo was the most difficult part because there was a chance, God forbid, I’d have to continue with more treatment.
I endured a lot and tackled it straight on and felt like I had conquered it. Now I had to recover and rid myself of all this medicine and tell my story to encourage people to go in for checkups and get colonoscopies. This is why we tried to be so open and outgoing without being overbearing. If you don’t feel good or you get to the age of 45, you’ve got to get checked, whether you have a history of cancer in your family or not.
I called Diana after we deplaned and told her the news and we subsequently gave the heads-up to the kids.
Four days later, at 5:07 pm, Dr. Mulcahy called and told me I was cancer-free. Diana was there with me and we didn’t do anything special other than maybe hug a little tighter when I got back home. It was like, “We did it. Let’s get as far away from this as we can.”
On March 22, just before the start of the second period of a game at the United Center between the Hawks and the Vancouver Canucks, I went back on the air with Pat Foley to update people on my condition. He told the audience that because of what I had gone through, he had gotten a colonoscopy, as had Troy Murray and a bunch of Pat’s friends. He said my ability to go public with what I had gone through was tremendously inspirational and also heroic, because anybody who has gone through chemotherapy knows how devastating a situation that can be.
Happily, I told everyone I was cancer-free. I reiterated as I had throughout my battle that it was a team effort, including the doctors, the entire Hawks organization, the National Hockey League, the people I worked with on TV, my family, my wife, my children, and my friends. If it wasn’t for my family, there was no way I could have gone through this. We all beat this. And I said I had done enough crying to last me a lifetime.
Pat was so pumped. “You beat cancer, baby!” he exclaimed.
Now that I was publicly revealing I was cancer-free, I wanted to reinforce to people who were battling cancer or knew someone going through it that they are not weak individuals. My message for them was to stay strong, believe they are tough, and believe they will beat it. I ended the interview by saying if I could inspire one person to stay away from this by going for a colonoscopy, then I guess it was well worth it. It tests your will to live.
I did a bunch of interviews afterward, just as I had done since I went public with my cancer battle, so it was kind of like going full circle. It wasn’t easy but it’s a lot less stressful when you’re telling them the happy ending of the story. Sharing that news was such a relief.
I subsequently underwent the hernia surgery in which they put an 8"x10" piece of mesh in my stomach to seal it up and fix it. In a way, it also felt like the final touch on my long journey.
This excerpt from Eddie Olczyk: Beating the Odds in Hockey and in Life by Eddie Olczyk with Perry Lefko is printed with the permission of Triumph Books. For more information and to order a copy, please visit www.triumphbooks.com/EddieOlczyk.