Courage! There is hope for Gord Downie

Gordon Downie GigCity EdmontonIt’s been an emotional day for Canadian music fans, with the sad and sudden news that Tragically Hip frontman Gordon Downie has terminal brain cancer – and that after receiving treatment, his doctor has given him the OK to proceed with a tour of selected Canada towns this summer.

UPDATE: The dates announced Wednesday include Edmonton’s Rexall Place on Thursday, July 28, part of an 11-city tour that finishes in the band’s hometown Kingston, Ontario on Aug. 20. Tickets go on sale Friday.

The Hip’s statement released Tuesday morning reads, in part: “This feels like the right thing to do now, for Gord, and for all of us. 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.”

At a press conference in Toronto yesterday (that was not attended by band members), Dr. James Perry, head of neurology at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, said Downie has responded “tremendously” to treatment, and is now feeling well enough to tour. With the band’s managers Bernie Breen and Patrick Sambrook, the doctor detailed the 52-year-old singer’s battle, starting with a seizure Downie suffered in December of 2015. An emergency MRI revealed the tumour. The band had already completed work on an upcoming album, Man Machine Poem, out June 17, and its single In a World Possessed by the Human Mind.

Dr. Perry said that Downie has an aggressive type of brain tumour called a glioblastoma located in his left temporal lobe, which is near the language and memory centres of the brain. Surgery removed most of it. Radiation and chemotherapy followed. “Fortunately for Gord,” Perry added, “he has a type of glioblastoma that is more amenable to treatment than most. Through research, we have learned of certain bio-markers or proteins of the surface of tumour that are associated with a more favourable response to treatment, and also confer a significantly higher chance of longer term survival. And Gord has one of these proteins.”

Perry did not tell reporters how long Downie may have to live, noting that cases vary wildly. About 250 cases of glioblastoma a year are diagnosed in Canada, he says, and it’s among the leading causes of cancer-related death among Canadians 40 to 60 years old. “It’s too early right now in Gord’s trajectory to understand what his prognosis might be,” Perry said. “Because when it comes down to individual, all we have are statistics. And statistics just don’t tell the picture.”

On the question of a possible “miracle” recovery, Perry responded, “I’m not sure what you mean by a miracle recovery, but he has returned to his physical, emotional, mental strengths well enough now to be able to get back to doing what he loves doing.”

Downie has fronted the Tragically Hip for more than 32 years, through 13 studio albums, and has worked on a myriad of solo and collaborative projects; his unique, original style and impressive creative output have made him one of Canada’s biggest musical icons. He is, as his doctor says, a “national treasure.”