Dale Hawerchuk described his battle against stomach cancer in an episode of Sportsnet’s After Hours on Sunday. The Hockey Hall of Famer was diagnosed with stomach cancer in Aug. 2019.
The 16-year NHL forward said he’s feeling “pretty good” as he recuperates from his home.
“From eight months ago when I was first diagnosed, it really felt like a death sentence but then you learn a lot more about cancer, talk to a lot of people, do a lot of research,” Hawerchuk said. “My surgeon was pretty blunt with me, basically said you’re going to have to go through some serious chemo, we’re going to have to remove your stomach and then more serious chemo. Here I am at the end of it. It’s been a battle but I feel pretty good.”
On April 13, Hawerchuk got to ring the bell at the hospital after completing his final round of chemotherapy.
He said he didn’t want to ring the bell — he just wanted to get in and out of the hospital with the COVID-19 pandemic going on —but was urged to do so.
“The nurses really wanted me to ring the bell,” Hawerchuk said. “It felt really good walking out of there after ringing the bell and saying, ‘Man, it’s been a long journey, but this was the goal, in the end, to get to this point.'”
Hawerchuk, who totaled 1,409 career points in 1,188 games for the Jets, Sabres, Blues and Flyers, said he felt something was wrong when he began experiencing acid reflux for the first time in his life. It kept getting worse and worse, and after scans didn’t show anything wrong, he went in for a scope.
“I went in and did the scope and when I woke up the doctors at the end of the bed said, ‘Sorry, I’ve got bad news. You got cancer.’ You just think you’re in a bad dream. You want to wake up but that was the reality,” Hawerchuk said. “Within a few hours, I was meeting with the surgeon and my surgeon was excellent.”
His doctors told him that he was going to need a feeding tube until he got going on chemotherapy. He said he was on a pump and feeding tube for two and a half to three months, giving him enough nutrition to save his life. Now, he has resumed eating food again.
“The chemo knocked down the tumor enough that I can start eating again. I thought I would never even like food again, that’s how bad it was,” Hawerchuk said. “Now, I really enjoy it again so happy to be here now with an appetite.”
Hawerchuk compared his cancer battle to a bag skate, which he hated while playing but in the end, he knew he would come out better because of it.
“It wasn’t fun going through it (bag skates) at the time but you always seem to feel better when it was over and you were healthier or you were more fit,” Hawerchuk said. “I take it one day at a time and tried to enjoy every moment of the day. I’m up early now and I really enjoy watching that sun come up over the hills. It’s the kind of thing where it’s unknown territory, but you got to listen to your doctors and got to have a great attitude and you got to feel like you’re going to do it.”
Early detection was important for Hawerchuk and he recommends people get a scope done in their forties, earlier than the current recommendation of doing it in their fifties.
“Just be sure because the one thing you find out with cancer and even talking to other people who’ve had cancer, the symptoms don’t hit until it’s further along than you want,” Hawerchuk said.” If you can get in stage one, you’re way ahead of the game and a lot of the times the symptoms don’t show up until stage three or four. I think just the way things are in the world now, whether it’s the food we’re eating, you should do these scopes earlier than when we used to recommend.”
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