Ed Olczyk

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Off Script: Eddie Olczyk opens up about his battle with colon cancer

NHL on NBC analyst and 2019 NHL Hockey Fights Cancer ambassador Eddie Olczyk discusses his career and fight with colon cancer in an interview with Kathryn Tappen in a 30-minute special.

Olczyk was named the NHL’s Hockey Fights Cancer ambassador earlier this month and November marks Hockey Fights Cancer Month throughout the league.

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, he has been dedicated to be an advocate for those fighting the disease and their families.

MORE: Book excerpt from Eddie Olczyk: Beating the Odds in Hockey and in Life

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Book excerpt from Eddie Olczyk: Beating the Odds in Hockey and in Life

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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 final chemo treatment. What a relief! It was incredible to be finally done — epic. I was done 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.

After beating cancer, Eddie Olczyk continues the fight

Eddie Olczyk was ready to give up.

The NHL player turned broadcaster was on his second round of chemotherapy for stage 3 colon cancer, and the effects were so severe that he told his wife, Diana, he couldn’t do it anymore. Diana told her husband to fight for her, their kids and everyone who loved him.

”We had a moment, which probably lasted 30 minutes where all we did was cry,” Eddie Olczyk said. ”I needed that. I’ve never quit or bailed on anything in my life. Even if I knew what the end result was going to be, you play to the end. You’re down 7-1 late in the third, you play to the end. So I had never felt anything like that.”

After playing more than 1,100 NHL games, Olczyk only figured out how tough he really was after battling and beating cancer. Now more than 24 months since being declared free of the disease, Olczyk is the NHL’s 2019 Hockey Fights Cancer ambassador and released a book, ”Beating the Odds in Hockey and in Life” to tell his story.

Olczyk, now 53, hopes to be a cautionary tale about early detection and an inspiration to those fighting cancer that, ”If that old broken down hockey player can do it, well, I can do it, too.” He’s not afraid to share the roller coaster of emotions he went through from his diagnosis in July 2017 through to the present, where he’s still scared because cancer could always return.

”You feel less, you feel weak, you feel like you’ve let everybody down – family, friends, employers,” Olczyk said. ”I’m way tougher than I ever thought I was because chemotherapy and having the disease really tests your will to live. Not only physically, but mentally and psychologically it takes its toll.”

Olczyk played 16 NHL seasons, coached parts of two with the Pittsburgh Penguins during their down years and went on to become a broadcaster for the Chicago Blackhawks and NBC Sports, working hockey and his other sports love, horse racing. While announcing he was cancer-free, ”Eddie O” said ”we did it” because of the support all around him.

”You just have a plan and you’ve got to live day to day and you’ve got to overcome some pretty big potholes and adversity,” he said. ”But you’ve got to fight and that’s what I was able to do with incredible support from my circle. The hockey community and the horse racing community, it helped me get through.”

Now it’s Olczyk’s turn to help. Already, the wife of Blackhawks security director Brian Higgins got a colonoscopy after Olczyk got sick and was diagnosed with colon cancer, and he has heard hundreds of similar stories since going public.

Olczyk is on top of his facts, too. He points out that the recommended age for getting a colonoscopy has dropped from 50 to 45 since he was diagnosed, and one of the things he’d like to do as part of Hockey Fights Cancer is shed the light on those taking care of patients, like Diana did with him.

”We’re not only in it for the people that are in the battle but also those caretakers and caregivers that are going through a lot mentally,” Olczyk said. ”That’s something we’re trying to spread the word on is how important the caretakers and caregivers are because they’re going through a lot themselves. It’s important that people understand that and always look out for them and find out how they’re doing.”

Olczyk honored during Hockey Fights Cancer night in Chicago

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The Chicago Blackhawks honored one of their own on Hockey Fights Cancer night at the United Center on Sunday.

Eddie Olczyk skated onto the ice fighting back tears as the Chicago faithful cheered him on.

The honoring was two-fold.

First, it was a part of Chicago’s ‘One More Shift’ ceremony that’s included former players such as Ed Belfour, Steve Larmer and Jeremy Roenick.

Secondly, it was a chance to properly acknowledge Olczyk’s fight against Stage 3 colon cancer, a battle he waged for months before announcing in March that he was cancer-free.

Olczyk took the ceremonial faceoff opposite of Minnesota Wild captain Mikko Koivu (whose brother Saku missed the entire 2001-02 season with Burkitt’s lymphoma).

Carter Holmes, an 11-year-old Blackhawks fan who is in remission after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in June, got to drop the puck after spending time with the team thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

Olczyk gave Holmes a hug after handing him the puck.

Olczyk played 222 games for the Blackhawks across five seasons, scoring 77 goals 132 points. The 52-year-old was drafted third overall by Chicago in the 1984 NHL Draft and went on to play 1,031 games with six different teams over his 16-year career, including stops in Winnipeg, Toronto, New York, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles.

With the Rangers, Olczyk lifted the Stanley Cup in 1994.

Olczyk has been working with NBC as a color commentator since 2006.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Ed Olczyk itching to coach again

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It’s been almost nine years since NBC’s Ed Olczyk was last behind the bench as a coach. He was coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins from 2003 til Dec. 15, 2005 when he was fired and replaced by Michel Therrien.

Now we all know him as Doc Emrick’s color commentator on NBC and NBCSN broadcasts, but he tells Rick Morrissey of the Chicago Sun-Times he has that itch to coach once again.

“There is still an emptiness,” he says. “There are very few people who know my desires and my feelings of where I am and where I want to get to, but there’s certainly an aspiration there. So if it would present itself, that’s where I would want to go. It might not happen. Who knows? What I wanted to do back in ’03 is where I’d like to go if I got the opportunity.”

Olczyk’s tenure with the Penguins is best known for seeing him coach Sidney Crosby in his rookie season in 2005. Olczyk lasted just 31 games before being fired as the Penguins got off to a 8-17-6 start.

Olczyk said if the opportunity to coach again was there he’d have to consider it. After being given a Penguins team before the arrival of Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang and featured Dick Tarnstrom as the leading scorer, wanting to get back at it and try again is understandable.