Gord Downie suffers from an aggressive form of brain cancer known as glioblastoma that’s incurable, but should not rob the Tragically Hip frontman of his ability to sing, his doctor said today in Toronto.
News the Canadian singer, lyricist and performer underwent surgery and six weeks of chemotherapy and radiation came from his neuro-oncologist, Dr. James Perry, on Tuesday morning, hours after fans learned Downie has the disease.
“These primary brain tumours are infiltrative by nature so they’re impossible to completely remove by surgery [and] they frequently recur,” the neuro-oncologist said. “It is my difficult duty today to tell you that Gord Downie’s brain tumour is incurable.”
Tests on the cancerous cells later revealed a small cause for hope: biomarkers indicate that Downie’s type of glioblastoma will respond better “to treatment than most,” Perry said. These proteins predict a longer-term chance of survival, although it will not change the disease’s eventual outcome.
Downie collapsed while walking down the sidewalk on a trip to his hometown of Kingston, Ont., his band managers, Bernie Breen and Patrick Sambrook, told reporters at Sunnybrook. That prompted a trip to the emergency room, and scans revealed the cancer.
Now, the singer’s primary symptoms are fatigue, his doctor said, owing both to illness and the radiation and chemotherapy he completed a month ago. Downie will likely need more “maintenance chemotherapy,” but an MRI scan last week showed the tumour had responded to treatment, Perry said.
The tumour, lodged in the left temporal lobe, interferes with the area of the brain that controls both speech and short-term memory. But Perry explained that lyrical memory — which controls the ability to sing and remember songs — are stored differently, and he said he did not anticipate any problems in those areas.
Neither Downie, a father of four, nor the other members of the Hip attended the Sunnybrook news conference.