STAMFORD, Conn. — Ed Olczyk receives two kinds of treatment, on roughly alternating weeks. One involves sitting in a hospital in Chicago having chemical poison introduced into his system.
The other involves nights such as Wednesday, when he appeared in NBCSN’s hockey studio, doing his job.
“It’s great medicine for the soul,” he said before going on the air for his first studio shift in more years than he could recall and his first work trip to the East Coast since he was diagnosed with Stage 3 colon cancer in mid-summer.
Olczyk, 51, NBC’s lead game analyst, has worked several games over the past two months for NBCSN and the Blackhawks’ local TV outlet, on his off weeks between chemotherapy.
The studio assignment was another test of his stamina because of the travel, and another chance to see some of the people who have offered support and encouragement since August.
As much as anything, it was a distraction from being home with his thoughts and fears.
“The hardest thing has been the mental part,” Olczyk said. “I’ve been places I don’t want to go. I have had enough quiet time to last me a lifetime. You do a lot of thinking. You think about your mortality, your legacy. But the support I’ve gotten, ‘overwhelmed’ is the only word I can use.”
Olczyk provided a long list of NBC colleagues, NHL teams and people and those from his other sports passion, horse racing, who have reached out to him. Listing them here would be longer than the story itself; suffice to say he appreciates it all.
“It might take me the rest of my life to thank everyone,” he said. “I couldn’t do this by myself. I’m not embarrassed to say that. I would just pack it in. I would. I don’t know how people do it [alone]. The biggest challenge is between the ears.”
Olczyk is grateful he was diagnosed as soon as he was, after experiencing constipation and pain in his lower abdomen. He soon was having a fist-sized tumor removed, along with 14 inches of his colon and 23 lymph nodes, seven of which were found to be “tainted.”
“My oncologist got my attention when she said, ‘I’m here to cure you, not treat you,’ ” he said. “That’s what I needed to hear.”
Why speak publicly about such private matters?
“I want to help somebody,” he said. “It’s OK to go to the doctor . . . It’s OK to get a colonoscopy a little earlier. If you don’t feel right, say something. If I can help one person avoid what the hell I’m going through, then you know what: There’s a reason I’m going through this: that I helped somebody.”
This was the first Thanksgiving in 14 years that Olczyk, his wife, Diana, and all four of their children were together. He usually is working. Next weekend, he plans to travel to his daughter Zandra’s graduation from the University of Alabama.
Life goes on, but the hockey part cannot be full-time, at least until his treatment is due to end in late February. He will miss the Winter Classic on Jan. 1 between the Rangers and Sabres. He intends to be back for the NHL playoffs.
It is part of the planning and discipline he learned as a hockey player, including a relatively brief stint with the Rangers during which he was a member of the 1994 Stanley Cup winner.
The work respites are what help keep him going in the meantime.
“There’s nothing normal about having cancer,” he said, “but I think living and trying to be an inspiration for people that are going through being sick, or whatever it might be, that’s kind of been where I’ve gained a lot of strength.”
Everywhere he turned at NBC Sports headquarters on Wednesday he was greeted by a familiar face asking how he was feeling and saying they were happy to have him back.
“Just seeing him and his energy and being able to give him a hug just meant the world to me,” studio host Kathryn Tappen said. “It’s electrifying. It’s exciting.”
It was the kind of normal day Olczyk thinks about during the worst of the chemo.
“It’s one of those things where I can feel it in my body; I want to be shackled because I feel like this,” he said, tensing his hands. “You feel it. You smell it. You reek it.
“But I’m trading in six months of hell for hopefully 50 more years. That’s the trade off. Hey, if I’m a general manager that’s a pretty good deal. I think I could run a team if I could make that deal. Where do I sign?”
THE OLCZYK FILE
Born: Aug. 16, 1966, in Chicago (Age 51)
Position: C • Shoots: Left
Height: 6-1 Weight: 207
Team USA 1984-93, including 1984 Winter Olympics
Drafted: 1984 by Blackhawks, third overall
Games: 1,031Goals: 342Assists: 452
Blackhawks 1984-87, 98-2000
Maple Leafs 1987-91
Jets 1991-93, 1994-96
Penguins 2003-04, 2005-06
“There’s nothing normal about having cancer, but I think living and trying to be an inspiration for people that are going through being sick, or whatever it might be, that’s kind of been where I’ve gained a lot of strength.”