Buffalo Sabres NHL Hall of Fame play-by-play announcer Rick Jeanneret endured 33 radiation treatments and several bouts of chemotherapy after he was diagnosed with Stage 3 throat cancer in the summer of 2014.
“It wasn’t fun at all going through it,” he said this week, “but I had so much encouragement coming my way” from family, his medical team and a legion of fans – thousands of whom sent get well emails during his treatment.
Next Friday, the shoe will be on the other foot. Jeanneret will share some encouraging words as part of the 6 p.m. opening ceremony of the inaugural Relay for Life of Buffalo at Canalside. As “honorary survivor,” he will then help lead other survivors on the first lap of the Relay. The event runs to midnight and the public is welcome. Learn more about this and other Relay events across the region at relayforlife.org.
The Cancer Society estimates that in 2014, there were nearly 14.5 million cancer survivors in the U.S. Many of them participate in Relay For Life events each year.
Q. What’s the latest with your treatment and prognosis?
It’s aftercare now. I’ve been declared free of cancer and have been for about a year and a half. I feel great. I’m pleased and happy. I wasn’t at all sure at one point that this was the way I was going to feel. Anything I have now that’s problematic is related to my age rather than cancer, that’s for sure. My voice took a while to come back. I think I came back too soon, but this past season, I felt great in that department, too.
Q. What adjustments have you made in your lifestyle since your diagnosis and treatment?
Once they declared me cured and cancer-free, I was right back to where I was at the start, though I was about 70 pounds lighter – which didn’t hurt, by the way. Once they said, “You’re good to go,” they meant it.
Q. What was your reaction to being asked to participate in the Relay for Life of Buffalo?
It’s certainly an honor, and something I could not turn down. There are some things I’m asked to do in the off-season but because of time constraints I have to turn them down. But this is paramount. This would have to be up at the top of things to do. I was honored to be asked. When I speak, I’m going to talk about my experience and what happened to me along the road, how my treatment transpired, going from Stage 3 throat cancer to being declared cured. I expect a lot of people are going to say, “Something like that happened to me, too.”
Q. What did you find most helpful after you were first diagnosed and as you went through treatment?
Support. Absolutely. I had great support from my family and, obviously, great medical support and treatment. When you get that diagnosis, you realize you’re kind of in a race to beat the Grim Reaper. It’s a little scary. It really is. The Sabres were incredible. I had the full support of the team and the organization. They set up a separate email address and that’s the way the fans were able to communicate with me through the entire process. You’d have to ask my wife (Sandra) how many email messages there were but there were an awful lot, thousands of them. I certainly could not respond to all of them individually, that’s for sure.
That helped along the way. To know that there’s that many people in your corner and that many people thinking of you, and in a lot of cases praying for you, YEAH, it helps big time.
Q. What was the best advice you got at that time?
I had a mentor through this process, a gentleman I’ve still yet to meet. One piece of advice he gave me – because he had gone through the same throat cancer – he said, “What you should do now is go out and buy yourself the most expensive steak you can and enjoy it, because it will never taste the same again.” He’s right. One thing the radiation does is destroy your taste buds. They come back very nicely, but not all the way.
Q. Where did you have that steak, and what kind was it?
It was on the road. I can’t remember where now, or what kind, but it was the most expensive on the menu (with a laugh).
Q. What did you take out of the last season when it comes to the Sabres prospects for next season?
I’m very much encouraged. I was on record before the season started that they would make the playoffs this season. I didn’t expect them to go to the Stanley Cup Final but thought they had enough upside to get into the playoffs. I was disappointed, frankly, that they didn’t get in. However, having said that, it was an enormous improvement over the previous couple of seasons. They were far more entertaining and, as a result of all that, you didn’t hear very many people complaining that they didn’t make the playoffs. Fans were being entertained on a nightly basis.
I think that augers well for the future. Next season, they will make the playoffs. No doubt in my mind, whatsoever.
Q. You called 41 games during the 2015-16 season. How many do you expect to handle next season?
About half. I’m blessed with an organization that gives me the opportunity to choose my own schedule, basically, but until I see a schedule from the league and find out when the games are going to be played, I won’t choose those games.
Q. How has your outlook changed and what advice would you give people going through those dark days of cancer treatment?
Try and maintain. It’s not easy. There are days when you’re not going to feel like it, but try and maintain as positive an attitude as you possibly can, and to consider there’s light at the end of the tunnel, and that light will grow as you get closer and closer toward the end of your treatment. Cancer is not to be feared but it is to be respected. Thank goodness we’ve gone past the point where cancer was a death sentence as soon as it was mentioned. There’s still some sad cases, and there will be, but there’s not nearly the number that there were in the past.
Twitter: @BNrefresh, @ScottBScanlon