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ONTARIO: Barrie Colts coach finishes chemo, hopes to be back behind the bench this fall

'There's some tough days, but you know what? You wake up and when you see that sun come up over the rise, it's a privilege'
2020-04-22 Dale Hawerchuk TW
After an eight-month of battle with stomach cancer, Dale Hawerchuk finished up his last round of chemotherapy and his hoping to get some good news in early June that will allow him to move forward and return behind the bench with the Barrie Colts. Terry Wilson/OHL Images

Dale Hawerchuk doesn't hesitate one second.

He knows exactly where he wants to be doing in few months.

"I'd love to coach in the fall," said the Barrie Colts head coach, who is feeling better a week after finishing his last round of chemotherapy treatments for stomach cancer and marking the occasion by ringing the 'Bell of Hope' inside the cancer ward at Barrie's Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre.

"My health will determine that and coronavirus will help determine that, as well," he told BarrieToday.

Hawerchuk says he misses coaching, heading to the rink every day, and teaching the young guys. 

"Barrie's got an exciting team. We're set up for the next couple of years," he said. "You just hope it gets going because I think everybody misses the sport and myself, I've been quarantined here for eight months with the cancer and the virus. My word to people is you can do it. I've done it.

"There's some tough days, but you know what? You wake up and when you see that sun come up over the rise, it's a privilege."

It's been quite the journey for Hawerchuk since he was diagnosed last August and had to take a leave of absence from the Ontario Hockey League club.

"You learn a lot about yourself and just life in general," said the Hockey Hall of Famer, who celebrated his 57th birthday earlier this month. "Sometimes, why we worry about certain things. It's great to be responsible and that's important, but sometimes we can take it too far at times. It puts things in perspective, that's for sure. You try and enjoy every minute of every day."

It's been an eight-month battle and wrapping up chemotherapy was an emotional moment for Hawerchuk.

"It felt good," said Hawerchuk, who will have scans done at the end of May and hopefully get the good news in early June that he can move forward with his life. "When the fourth round of chemo comes, it's always tough because your body's pretty beat up by the time you hit the fourth round. I knew it'd be a tough week and it was, but it feels good now. It's been a week since my last chemo treatment, so I'm starting to feel better. I'm pretty good now.

"When you get chemo it's such an empty feeling. You're cold all the time. There's tingling everywhere, in your feet and in your hands. Even in your face and your mouth. I'm just kind of getting through that, which is good."

He's come so far from where he began the journey and battle last summer. Struggling to eat, he had to get a feeding tube, which he says kind of saved his life. He then did two months of chemotherapy in the fall, before having his stomach removed in January.

After spending a month recovering from his complete gastrectomy, he did another two months of chemotherapy to "hopefully clean everything up."

 "That was the original plan, so here I am," said Hawerchuk, who is hoping to have the feeding tube removed at the end of this week. "I've (done) that original plan. It seemed like quite a bit at the start. You go through a lot and then you add the coronavirus on top of it now and it's like, 'Oh man, what a year.'

"I'm eating good, so that's good. I'm just hoping when we go for scans at the end of May, hopefully there's no cancer floating around."

Having his family there with him through his battle with cancer was a tremendous source of support for Hawerchuk. He says he's fortunate that his wife, Crystal, and kids — Eric, Ben and Alexis — have been there with him.

"My wife was a nurse back when we met years ago, so she has a good handle on things and she's always pushing me to do certain things," he said. "Diet becomes very important and she's always pushing me to eat this or drink that or whatever. That really helps.

"The kids have been around for the most part. Just their support at times is good because there's a week I can't do much and they can take over. When you just know that they're there, it puts you at ease a little more."

The support he's received from the hockey community is also something he'll never forget and he's grateful so many have taken the time to wish him well.

"When social media gets going, it blows up your phone," Hawerchuk said. "You try to get back to everybody, but it's been very supportive. You know, that helps. I've always been a fighter, so I'll just keep fighting away here. Whatever comes, I'll just deal with.

"Who knows, it's one day at a time and hopefully that one day at a time turns into many years. That's all you can do."

With COVID-19 and his immune system compromised, Hawerchuk had to be careful finishing his treatment and knows he has to continue to not take any chances. He is so grateful for the cancer ward in Barrie, which he says has been excellent.

"The care there has been incredible," he said. "The people and my oncology team, and all the nurses and doctors there, it's been incredible. With the virus, you're worried about it, but they're on it there. They screen people well."

Hawerchuk says he spent a lot of time watching hockey during his recovery, especially the Colts. He talked to the coaching staff and even went in and talked to the players a couple of times.

He also got the chance to watch NHL games, something he hasn't been able to do because of being so busy coaching.

"I watched a lot of the guys I used to coach," he said. "I talked to them a lot in the winter."

With the current global health crisis, Hawerchuk knows everybody's going through a tough time, but he believes if we think about doing the right things, we'll get through it. We always seem to find a way to battle through and he doesn't think it'll be any different this time.

Much like his own battle, where he remains just as optimistic.

"I'm hoping 10, 15 years from now I can look and say this was just a little blip in my life," Hawerchuk said. "If I can live that long, then it will seem like that. You know what? You take it day by day and hopefully those turn into years."

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Gene Pereira

About the Author: Gene Pereira

An award-winning journalist, Gene is former sports editor of the Barrie Examiner and his byline has appeared in several newspapers. He is also the longtime colour analyst of the OHL Barrie Colts on Rogers TV
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