Eddie “Edzo” Olczyk Rebounds after Biggest Battle of His Legendary Life
United States Hockey Hall of Famer and Chicago Blackhawks legend Eddie “Edzo” Olczyk knows how to win. He played on the 1984 United States Olympic hockey team, set multiple records in the NHL, coached a professional hockey team, and continues to announce games for the Chicago Blackhawks and NBCSN television.
But the biggest fight of his life came when he received a diagnosis of stage 3 colon cancer. Within three days of diagnosis, Scott A. Strong, MD, performed surgery to remove the advanced-stage tumors. Dr. Strong is a specialist in colon and rectal surgery at the Northwestern Medicine Digestive Health Center and the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University, and is on staff at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
Olczyk could have traveled anywhere in the world for treatment, but he trusted the world-class care and advanced technologies at Northwestern Medicine and the Lurie Cancer Center. In its 2017-2018 “Best Hospitals” report, U.S. News and World Report named Northwestern Memorial Hospital the No. 1 hospital in Illinois for a sixth consecutive year, and ranked its cancer program No. 16 nationally. This leading-edge care means that Olczyk had access to innovative ways to treat his cancer.
Dr. Strong was aggressive in removing the cancer so that Olczyk could start chemotherapy early after surgery. Olczyk then met with oncologist Mary Mulcahy, MD, whose determination to help him beat cancer was clear from the beginning.
“I’m here to cure you, not to treat you,” she said to him at their first meeting. “Do you understand the difference?”
He understood. “I set goals for myself,” Olczyk says. He noted events and milestones he wanted to meet — his daughter’s college graduation, Christmas with his family, hockey games, the Super Bowl. “Having short-term goals and short-term targets got me to the next place.”
On the ice and off, Olczyk knows how to win, and he understands the importance of teamwork. Throughout his cancer journey, Dr. Strong and Dr. Mulcahy were part of a comprehensive team of physicians, nurses and staff who supported Olczyk and his family. Also ever-present was Blackhawks team physician Michael Terry, MD, an orthopedic surgeon with Northwestern Medical Group.
“Team Olczyk” included some other important members. “The incredible support from day one -- from my family, the entire Blackhawks organization, and all my friends and fans was some of the best medicine I received,” he says.
Within weeks of surgery, Olczyk started on six months of chemotherapy tailored to his specific type of cancer. Now ten months from his diagnosis, Olczyk shows no signs of cancer. Olczyk, like most patients with stage 2, 3 or 4 colon cancer, will be followed for five years to exclude the possibility of recurrent cancer.
Olczyk is back to calling games for the Blackhawks and NBCSN. He’s looking forward to his 30th wedding anniversary this summer and his oldest son’s wedding — exactly 365 days from the date he was diagnosed with cancer. One of his short-term goals is participating in Lurie Cancer Center’s Cancer Survivors’ Celebration Walk & 5K, where he will be honored as one of the “Faces of Cancer.” The Stanley Cup Final schedule is the only thing that could come between him and the 25th Annual event.
With treatment behind him, Olczyk values “showing up” for others more than ever. “If there’s someone fighting any battle, any disease, going through a tough time, it’s important to check in,” Olczyk says. “Getting those calls and messages got me through.”
“I’m lucky for the support. I’m lucky I had the team of doctors that I did,” Olczyk says. “I’m putting this in the rearview mirror and getting back to what I love to do.”