When he died of stomach cancer at age 57 on Tuesday, hockey legend Dale Hawerchuk became one of around 1,900 Canadians expected to succumb to the disease in 2020.
The Canadian Cancer Society’s Elizabeth Holmes told 680 CJOB that around 4,000 people across the country are diagnosed annually.
While Hawerchuk was living in Ontario at the time of his death, around 130 new cases are expected to be diagnosed — and 60 deaths — in his adopted home of Manitoba this year.
“When you have any cancer, your health-care team will create a treatment plan for you, there’s a lot of information that goes into making those decisions about surgery or chemotherapy or radiation therapy — and all of these options are available for individuals with stomach cancer,” said Holmes.
“With respect to research, a key area is looking at better ways to diagnose and stage the stomach cancer, and then finding ways to predict the probability that the cancer can be successfully treated or whether it will come back after treatment.”
In Hawerchuk’s case, the Hockey Hall of Famer told 680 CJOB in April of this year that he felt like he was on his deathbed at multiple times throughout his battle with the disease, and he needed to have part of his colon and his entire stomach removed in an attempt to save his life.
“At first, it really feels like a death sentence,” he said. “My prognosis was not good. My surgeon was pretty blunt right at the start.”
Holmes said stomach cancer may not cause any symptoms in its early stages, due to the nature of where it occurs in the body.
“Our abdomens, our stomachs — they’re meant to expand and contract, so a tumour can grow without causing any symptoms. Once those symptoms start to appear, they may seem like another health condition,” she said.
Holmes said symptoms can include abdominal pain or discomfort, weight loss, fatigue, digestive issues, unknown reasons for heartburn or nausea … all of which are symptoms that occur in other conditions as well.
The best advice, she said, is to visit your doctor if you’re experiencing any kind of changes to your body that have you concerned.
“It might be nothing — but it might be something serious.”