Buffalo Sabres broadcasting legend Rick Jeanneret has been diagnosed with throat cancer.
In a telephone interview Tuesday, the 71-year-old member of multiple Halls of Fame said he had a biopsy three weeks ago in Canada and was told two weeks ago that a golf ball-sized growth in his throat was malignant.
Jeanneret, who has been broadcasting Sabres games either on radio or television for 43 years, expects to have radiation treatment for six or seven weeks and possibly chemotherapy. His doctors in Hamilton, Ont., have told him that it is stage III cancer and that he has an 85 percent chance of recovery. He is meeting with them again Thursday.
“I would like to stress I have every intention of coming back,” said Jeanneret. “I have probably three months ahead of me that aren’t going to be fun. I know they aren’t going to be.”
He said his return to do play-by-play is “open-ended.”
“I consider this to be a bump in the road and am fully intending to come back and fulfill my obligations to the Sabres,” he said. “I know there is going to be a lot of concern. All I can do is ask everybody to please allow me and my family to keep this as private as possible. We will provide updates through the team.”
After Jeanneret recovers, he hopes to give more signature calls on the play-by-play of the 47 games he is scheduled to do under terms of the three-year contract he signed last season that concludes when he works half the team’s games in the 2015-16 season. The Sabres let him choose his games so he could do 47 games this upcoming season if his recovery goes well. Dan Dunleavy was signed last season to work the games that Jeanneret doesn’t call.
“I’m in the middle of a contract that really is unheard of,” said Jeanneret. “They were phasing me out and gave me an opportunity to do fewer games every year, have a lot of time off and less travel. It was great. I was looking forward to it very, very much. And I’m still looking forward to it.”
He is getting strong support from his wife, Sandra, his two sons, his stepdaughter and his 94-year-old mother, Kay, and is relying on it to continue. “I’m going to need more family support for the next little while,” said Jeanneret.
He describes himself as a “private person.”
“That’s paramount,” said Jeanneret.
Jeanneret doesn’t plan to do any more interviews and is having the Sabres deal with the fans who want to express their support through cards, emails and other ways.
“All further updates will come from the Buffalo Sabres,” said Jeanneret.
The Sabres have set up an email address, GetWellRJ@sabres.com that starting today will deal with the expected large number of Jeanneret fans who want to wish him well.
Jeanneret knows and admires Buffalo Bills great Jim Kelly, understands his situation and supports his public way of dealing with his cancer battle. But he acknowledges that there are different ways of dealing with situations like this.
“I like Jim and I understand what he and his family are doing and admire them for it,” said Jeanneret. “But Kelly is Kelly and Jeanneret is Jeanneret. That’s the way he has chosen to go and this is the way I have chosen to go. I just want to keep it a little more private. JK is JK and RJ is RJ. I don’t know how else I can say it. And neither one of us is necessarily right or wrong.”
Jeanneret, who has missed only a handful of games because of illness in his 43 years with the Sabres, said his symptoms began late in the past NHL season, when he had a nagging sore throat that eventually led him to visit a doctor. An independent contractor with the Sabres, Jeanneret’s health insurance is in Canada and not in the United States. “I thought it would pass,” he said of his sore throat.
When it didn’t, his doctor sent him to an ear, nose and throat specialist and the growth was discovered. He had the biopsy June 11 and cancer was diagnosed June 19. His reaction was understandable. “It was a little bit of trepidation,” said Jeanneret, who stopped smoking more than 20 years ago. “It is the great unknown for me now. I can listen to everything the doctors say and you put yourself in their hands. You guys do your job and I’m sure everything is going to be fine.”
He was told surgery is not currently an option and a course of radiation was planned.
Jeanneret described his spirits “as pretty good at this moment.”
“I have no pain or any issues,” said Jeanneret, whose voice sounded normal during the interview. “I have a little difficulty swallowing once in a while, which isn’t surprising since the growth is the size of a golf ball. If anything, I’m just anxious to get the treatments started and over with.”
Jeanneret is in the Hockey Hall of Fame, the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall and the Sabres Hall of Fame, but has never wanted to be called the Voice of the Sabres out of deference to the late Ted Darling.
The Sabres’ youth movement has made him more excited to come back this upcoming season and perhaps invent some new, exciting calls for top draft choice Samson Reinhart and other young Sabres.
“I would say so,” said Jeanneret. “I have a feeling this team is on the cusp of busting out. It is not going to happen immediately, that’s for sure, but they are going down the right path now and everybody is going to be rewarded as a result of that in the very near future.”
And he wants to be part of the team’s renewal.
“Big time,” said Jeanneret “Do I ever! I’m very much looking forward to it.”