CHICAGO --Taking things simply “day to day” is how Eddie Olczyk is choosing to tackle his fight against cancer at the age of 51.
Diagnosed in August, the former NHL great turned broadcaster is finding ways to move forward after the surprising medical setback.
Olczyk is arguably one of the Chicago Blackhawks’ greatest players and one of professional hockey’s most treasured gems. He is a big teddy bear. At 6 foot-1 and 200 pounds, inside that rough exterior lies a truly sensitive guy who is thinking a lot about life and the medical challenge that lies before him.
He tells WGN News learning about his serious cancer diagnosis was like nothing he could’ve imagined. Because at the peak of his career, his personal life in order, his world came crashing down.
Months after the diagnosis, Olczyk and his wife Diana still processing the unthinkable. They have four children, decades together and so much to live for.
In a matter of five days this summer, Olczyk went from perfectly healthy to a hospital emergency room. Symptoms came on suddenly. First pains in his stomach, vomiting, then two surgeries to remove a tumor the size of his fist. A tumor he never knew he had.
Diana, his wife of 29 years, steadfast and calm as Eddie’s head was spinning.
"Without the support of family, friends and the Blackhawks, I don’t know where I’d be," the team's color commentator said.
Friends like his partner in the booth Pat Foley. These pros have managed to laugh their way through so many games over the years. The play-by-play by Eddie is a fan favorite.
But their history together runs deep. Foley has known Olczyk since the Hawks signed him at the age of 18, when No. 16 was just a rookie.
When Foley was asked to throw out the first pitch at a Cubs game this summer, he knew exactly what to do. Olczyk is a diehard Cubs fan, too. So while waving Eddie’s jersey proudly for the Wrigley crowd to see, No. 16 was actually sitting on his couch at home-all choked up as his longtime partner and dear friend threw out the first pitch and later sang the 7th inning stretch wearing Olczyk’s jersey backward for all fans to see.
"I’m trying to think of anyway I can to remind my partner how much love is in the air for him," Foley said.
"It was hard to watch. I was like crying, my wife was crying, and with Cubs fans cheering," Olczyk said.
"I'm sorry he got emotional, but I’m not surprised. That’s the kind of guy he is," Foley said. "Sorry if I made you cry, partner, but it was worth it.”
Then, days later, an emotional first visit back to the broadcast booth to see his old friend lay eyes on the ice and wave to more than just hockey fans. These were Eddie Olczyk fans.
Olczyk says his battle with cancer suddenly reminds him of what’s important in life. The support he’s getting coming from all sides is the one thing getting this skater through the rough patches.
"Every organization has a thread that weaves through it, and if there is a thread that weaves through the Chicago Blackhawks, it’s Eddie Olczyk," said John McDonough, president and CEO of the Chicago Blackhawks. "He’s synonymous with the Blackhawks, part of the logo, part of everything that represents our franchise."
McDonough even calls Olczyk "the Mayor of the United Center" His seat in the booth always there when he is feeling good enough to come back and call the games. This as fans in the stands lovingly cheer Olczyk on.
"It’s a big gift. All that support. It’s a big gift," Olczyk said.