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12/20/17

In fight against cancer, Eddie Olczyk discovers a new voice

CHICAGO — Eddie Olczyk probably could have kept his colon cancer diagnosis a secret. Instead of announcing his battle to the public, Olczyk would have been entitled to say he’s missing work due to an “undisclosed medical condition,” or something similar.

But that’s not who Olczyk is.

Olczyk, the lead color commentator for national NBC broadcasts and local Blackhawks games, was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer in August. When he first got sick, Olcyzk missed appearances and told people he was simply not feeling well. And when he and the Blackhawks first announced the diagnosis Aug. 8, he wanted to control the message by giving the diagnosis and few other details.

“I didn’t know how I was going to feel,” Olczyk said during a recent interview with Sporting News. “I didn’t know how limited I was going to be for work and all those things, so we left it an open canvas. Whether it’s the local games in Chicago that I do or the national games on NBC, it was an open canvas on both sides.”

Yet as Olczyk, 51, got further into his treatment, a couple other goals besides beating cancer emerged.

He wanted to make people aware it’s OK to say something if you’re not feeling well. He wanted to become an inspiration for others who are fighting cancer or other diseases. Olczyk, who in many ways still considers himself a private person, has used his pulpit to spread that message, and the desire to speak loudly has grown as his battle has continued.

“It doesn’t even have to be a physical ailment. It could be mental, whatever it might be. I think the more I got into it I wanted to share my story with people and have people get a colonoscopy a little bit earlier, or if you don’t feel well say something,” Olczyk said.

At first, Olczyk wanted to “hide under a rock” when he was diagnosed. Initially, he felt he let down his family, children and co-workers because of the pain his diagnosis caused. But there’s something driving him now to react differently.

“If I could help one person avoid what the hell I’m going through, then it was well worth it, because I would not want to see anybody have to endure the surgeries and the chemo,” Olczyk said. “If I can make somebody stop and think and go ‘I need to get a colonoscopy’ or ‘This pain I have in my side’ or whatever it is ... ‘I’ve got to go get checked out.’ Long-winded, I think it was just I want to try to help people and make people aware.

“I’ve had hundreds of people tell me that they went in for their colonoscopy early and they’re not going to wait and they’re going to get another one. I’m hoping that I’m helping save people from going through this, and that’s what’s inspiring me to go through it.”

On Nov. 28, Olczyk took part in the Blackhawks’ Hockey Fights Cancer pregame ceremony. The Hockey Fights Cancer program is one that Olczyk praises, saying the initiative is as great as anything the NHL has done.

Earlier that November day, Olczyk went through a round of chemotherapy, but mustered the strength to participate in a ceremonial faceoff between Patrick Kane and Anaheim’s Corey Perry. What gave Olczyk the most strength, however, was who was with him on the ice.

Along with Olczyk, 9-year-old Lauren Graver was there to drop the puck. Graver is fighting a muscle cancer called rhabdomyosarcoma. Meeting Lauren and hearing her story gave Olczyk strength and courage on a day he needed the boost.

“Hopefully she can remember that day for the rest of her life. It was emotional for sure,” Olzcyk said. “If you watch the video of us standing there, I’m holding her hand and I was the one that was shaking more than Lauren. I was proud to be able to go out there with her.”

Olczyk’s greatest challenge

Born in Chicago in 1966, Olczyk grew up in the Chicagoland area. He came of age at a time when there were only a few American-born players in the NHL, let alone Chicago. Even today, Olczyk remembers hearing doubts about how far he’d make it in the game, doubts that were amplified during the summer of 1983 when he was invited as a 16-year-old to try out for the 1984 U.S. Olympic team.

Olczyk made that team, and was the No. 3 overall pick by his hometown Blackhawks in the 1984 draft. He played until 2000, won a Stanley Cup with the Rangers in 1994 and retired as one of the best American-born players in history. His 18-game point streak during the 1989-90 season is one of the longest by a U.S. player, and in 2013 he was inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.

After retiring as a player, Olczyk went into broadcasting with the Penguins before becoming their head coach in 2003. Over parts of two seasons, Olczyk was Sidney Crosby’s first coach but struggled to succeed, going 31-64-8-10 before his dismissal in December 2005.

Olczyk then returned to the booth in 2006, calling local Blackhawks games. That year, he also was named the lead color commentator for the national OLN broadcasts and overcame more doubts, that an American could analyze hockey at that high a level. Olczyk, a noted horseman, was given the chance to work on NBC’s Triple Crown and Breeders Cup telecasts, even though he was known for playing hockey.

“I didn’t do those things to prove anybody wrong,” Olczyk said. “It was just because I had a passion for what I was doing.”

As great as the challenge was to make it as an American hockey player or broadcaster, what Olczyk’s facing now is tougher. He recently finished the seventh of 12 chemotherapy treatments and is battling something with higher stakes than his career: his life.

Unlike the other challenges he’s surmounted, Olczyk isn’t hearing doubts now, but only support. What he’s hearing means a lot, but not just to him. He’s seeing the true colors of his family, friends, the Blackhawks, NBC, the hockey and horseracing communities and said the support has been “overwhelming and it’s been needed and it’s been appreciated from calls and visits and texts.”

“Besides some bullies on social media, I didn’t have one person tell me that I wasn’t going to win and I wasn’t going to beat it and I wasn’t going to do it. It’s made me feel, and my family feel pretty awesome,” Olczyk said. “I think that’s what I’ve kind of learned, just the strength of friends and family and just people I’ve come across in my life have been just overly supportive and it’s just been overwhelming. It’s helped out a lot and there’s no way I could have done this going through this by myself.”

Though Olczyk is the one fighting cancer, he hasn’t been alone.

Commissioner Gary Bettman reached out after the diagnosis to offer his and the league’s support. Current and former players like Martin St. Louis, who didn’t even know him well, contacted Olczyk.

Olczyk has also made sure to return the favor. Once he heard about Brian Boyle’s leukemia diagnosis, Olczyk thought it was important to reach out and wish Boyle well and let him know he was praying for him. The same goes for David Backes, who underwent surgery to remove part of his colon.

“It’s just what hockey guys do — the good guys find a way to reach out and just let people know they’re thinking about you,” Olczyk said. “That’s what the hockey community has done in my situation.”

The ultimate goal

By now, it’s obvious Olczyk has always been a goal-oriented person.

Olczyk made the 1984 Olympic team. He became an NHL star and Stanley Cup champion. Then he rose to become a voice of the league and one of its most famous teams.

That mentality is helping Olczyk now, and it has since Aug. 4 when he learned his diagnosis and that he was facing six months of chemotherapy. At the time, he thought six months would take forever and looked for ways to pass the time.

He did so by setting out to broadcast a couple games in October. Work the Breeders Cup in November. Celebrate Thanksgiving. See his daughter graduate from college in December.

All done.

“I think for me it was getting to those so-called milestones. Not looking at it as treatment 1, treatment 2, because I go every two weeks for my treatments,” Olczyk said. “I think it’s really helped me to have those goals and achieve them and help pass the time, so to speak.”

Olczyk has five treatments left and other goals to reach, but having things to look forward to has helped. Because, as he admits, things haven’t always been easy.

“I’ve been to places psychologically and I’m sure anybody that’s going through this or has or will, will go to places that they never want to go again,” he said. “It’s all on how you feel. For me, I go through 14-day cycles and the first six, seven days of it are not good, and everybody has different symptoms and side effects and whatever. There’s a lot of downtime, and I’ve had more downtime to last me a lifetime, but I think that’s why those goals have been so important.”

That’s all to help him with the biggest goal.

“Obviously the big one is to get a big thumbs up and a clean bill of health and to tell me that I beat this,” Olczyk said. “I’m always going to have to live with this the rest of my life and I understand that, but that’s the ultimate goal. That’s what I’m striving for.”


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Source: http://www.sportingnews.com/ca/nhl/news/eddie-olczyk-blackhawks-colon-cancer-brian-boyle-nhl-hockey-fights-cancer/6xzlfihp5xt01xvm8yznon9cl