TORONTO – A specialist treating the Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie for terminal brain cancer said Tuesday that the singer is “doing very well” but it’s “too early right now” to know his prognosis.
Dr. James Perry, head of neurology at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, said there’s a very wide spectrum of possible outcomes for patients with glioblastoma, which is the most common and most aggressive cancerous primary brain tumour.
It affects about two to three people per 100,000 in Canada, the United States and Europe, according to information supplied by Sunnybrook. It’s the same type of brain tumour discovered in Ted Kennedy, actress Ethel Merman and former Montreal Expos player Gary Carter.
Symptoms of Downie’s brain tumour first became apparent last December, the doctor said. Downie suffered a seizure which led to an emergency room visit, where the tumour was discovered.
Downie underwent surgery to remove “the bulk” of the tumour and was given six weeks of radiation treatment and chemotherapy medication, which left him “tired as you know what,” Perry said, making a subtle reference to a new song recently released by the Hip.
“Fortunately for Gord, he has a type of glioblastoma that is more amenable to treatment than most…. with a more favourable response to treatment,” said Perry, suggesting Downie could have “a significantly higher chance of longer-term survival.”
Perry said Downie has recovered much of his physical, mental and emotional strength and it’s safe for him to tour with the band this summer. Details of the tour will be announced Wednesday.
“Although the future can never be predicted with certainty, our team and I are confident that Gord and the band will dig deep and will complete the tour, and I don’t anticipate any medical issues in the short term,” he said.
“We’ll have to deal with that week by week, concert by concert.”
Advice has been given to the Tragically Hip’s management about how to handle particular circumstances that may arise at concerts. The doctor also emphasized that Downie will need to avoid fatigue while on stage.
“We all know he doesn’t sit down in a rocking chair and play banjo, so I think we have to be cautious about things like hydration,” Perry said.
The band first announced in a statement Tuesday morning that the dynamic lyricist and performer learned of the illness in December. Neither Downie nor his bandmates were at the press conference.
“This feels like the right thing to do now, for Gord, and for all of us,” the Hip said in the statement announcing the tour.
“What we in the Hip receive, each time we play together, is a connection; with each other; with music and its magic; and during the shows, a special connection with all of you, our incredible fans. So, we’re going to dig deep, and try to make this our best tour yet.”
The announcement also said the band will not discuss the matter further because “the music will stand to answer all.”
The decision falls in line with Downie’s media-shy public persona. When not on stage, Downie has mostly avoided the spotlight, reserving most interviews and public appearances to support causes close to his heart.
He backed Neil Young’s anti-oilsands campaign and spoke out against a proposal to increase the capacity of two pipelines running from Ontario to Quebec three years ago.
“Social causes are quite obvious,” Downie said in a 2014 interview with The Canadian Press.
“Music brings people together. So my function in anything I do is to help bring people closer in.”
The Tragically Hip’s 14th studio album, “Man Machine Poem,” will be released on June 14. The album was largely completed prior to Downie learning about the tumour, his manager said.
The Kingston, Ont., band formed in 1984 and would launch their self-titled debut EP in 1987. Their first full-length album, “Up to Here,” in 1989 turned them into bona fide rock stars at home with hits including “Blow at High Dough” and “New Orleans Is Sinking.”
Downie’s performances of “New Orleans Is Sinking” in concert would become one of his trademarks. He regularly thrilled fans by reinventing the hit with different lyrics during an extended musical interlude.
In all, the band has released a dozen studio albums and has won 14 Juno Awards. They were inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2002 and the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2005.
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