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MONTREAL - Actor Michael Douglas has volunteered to serve as the star attraction in May at a Montreal fundraiser for cancer research.


Douglas has stepped forward to assist with this year's event, the 17th annual Head and Neck Cancer Fundraiser, held by the Department of Otolaryngology of the McGill University Department of Medicine.


It is scheduled for May 3 at Le Windsor, on Peel St. in downtown Montreal, according to the calendar of coming events at the Jewish General Hospital - where, according to the actor's publicist, his recent case of throat cancer was diagnosed after other physicians had missed it.. "It was his very gracious offer to help us in view of his own battle with throat cancer," Dr. Saul Frenkiel was quoted Monday night by the Canadian Press news agency.


Frenkiel, a head and neck surgeon who is the event's co-chairman, could not be reached for an interview by The Gazette.


Douglas owns a vacation property in the Mont Tremblant resort area in the Laurentians.


Tickets to the dinner have been priced at $375 each. VIP tickets are $750.


© Copyright © The Montreal Gazette



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Published On Thu May 5 2011

Jeanne Beker

Contributing Editor




The atmosphere was electric when elegant, beleaguered actor Michael Douglas appeared at New York Fashion Week with his beautiful wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones.


The glamourous couple had come out to support their designer pal Michael Kors, whose 30th anniversary show was part of the February shows at Lincoln Center. Like many fans, I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw the 66-year-old actor, looking chic in his tailored cashmere. Last summer, Douglas had been diagnosed with Stage 4 throat cancer. We had all said our prayers.


This week, in gratitude to the doctor and hospital that helped save his life, Douglas appeared at a gala benefit in Montreal for the McGill Head and Neck Cancer Fund. But he was flying solo: Zeta-Jones, who was recently diagnosed and treated for bipolar II disorder, was at work on a film in the United States. Their family has gone through some unspeakably tough trials, but it appears things are happily back on track. At the gala, the dapper Douglas posed for countless pictures and chatted with guests, adamant about spreading the word that cancer can be beaten and a positive attitude is key.


Free of the disease for three months now, Douglas told the crowd that his cancer had gone undiagnosed by doctors in the U.S. While on vacation at his farm outside Mont Tremblant in 2010, Douglas sought a second opinion from Dr. Saul Frenkiel, a head and neck surgeon at Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital. The chilling news: Douglas had a walnut-sized tumour on the back of his tongue. It was malignant.


Cancer is a frightening proposition for anyone, but imagine being an actor facing oral cancer. About 54 per cent of patients survive longer than five years, but there was a very real possibility that Douglas could lose his ability to speak properly, putting an end to his career.


This dark dilemma hit especially close to home for me: In 2005, my talented guy, Toronto actor Barry Flatman, was also diagnosed with tongue cancer. Unlike Douglas, who took the radiation-and-chemotherapy route, Barry opted for surgery. He lost 20 per cent of his tongue, but miraculously, and with a couple of years of intense therapy, Barry’s speech is back to normal and he’s back to work. Last year, while shooting The Kennedys miniseries, he celebrated his fifth anniversary of being cancer-free. “After years of holding my breath in anticipation of the cancer returning, it’s really nice to be able to exhale,” says Flatman.


At last night’s event, Douglas echoed the sentiment: “Cancer may leave your body, but it never leaves your mind.”


The $375-a-ticket gala raised close to $1.7 million for head and neck cancer research. In a live auction, a golf date with Douglas and Zeta-Jones auctioned for a whopping $180,000. I chatted with the Academy Award-winner about the focus, courage and new-found priorities that have helped see him through this trying time.


It’s something that resonates with me because my boyfriend, Barry Flatman, is an actor and he had oral cancer just over five years ago.


Yeah, I mean, actors don’t really hear about tongue cancer.


You had an incredible doctor taking care of you, who obviously spelled things out for you in a poignant way.


That’s one of the biggest things that I think people are up against, knowing how to treat and being presented with choices when they are diagnosed with something of this nature.


Was that even an easy decision to make?


Unfortunately, because mine went so long before it was detected, I had what’s called Stage 4 cancer, which is the worst situation . . . Stage 4 below the neck is, like, not good, is usually life-threatening, so I didn’t have a lot of choices. Basically, it was a maximum amount of radiation — seven weeks — and chemo. And I said, “Let’s go.”


Michael, how do you walk that fine line between fear and hope?


One of the benefits of having a dive into it is that you don’t have a lot of time to think about it. You just keep your mind focused on your treatment and what you’re doing rather than letting it wander . . . My odds were pretty good, so I didn’t really get into a mortality issue (rather) than just taking care of this and this and getting this solved.


I’m three months cancer-free now, as far as going in each month and checking it out, but I’m still reticent and reluctant and worried.


Priorities have obviously changed phenomenally. I don’t know if that happens in an instant when you get the diagnosis, or you know, if it’s something that you sit with for a while and start reflecting on. How did it happen for you?


Because I’m an actor (you know) you get fan mail your entire life. But all of a sudden, you get this mail from strangers who feel like they know you ’cause they’ve seen you for all these years in films, and they share their personal stories, some of them pretty tough stories, some of them positive and a lot of them with not happy endings. But there was a deep bond with family and as someone not having formal religious training, the amount of prayers and hope and support I got, brought me to a spiritual level that I’ve never had really experienced before.


And family, I guess, helps to put it all together?


Family helps but I’m the kind of. . . the frustrating part is that there’s nothing that they can really do, so I encourage everybody to get on with their lives and take care of business, and it worked out well. But the bond, the deepness of your love for your family and your friends really increased dramatically and I treat each moment I had with them much more than I did before.


You are an incredible inspiration, always have been, and certainly continue to be. And we’re rooting for you.


Thank you Jeanne, appreciate it.


Jeanne Beker is a contributing editor to the Star and host of Fashion Television. Email jeanne@ctv.ca, follow her on Twitter (@jeanne_beker) and watch her on CTV and FashionTelevisionChannel.


The good doctor


Dr. Saul Frenkiel, a head and neck surgeon at Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital diagnosed actor Michael Douglas with Stage 4 throat cancer in 2010. Jeanne Beker spoke with Frenkiel Tuesday at a gala fundraiser for the McGill Head and Neck Cancer Fund. This is an edited version of that interview.


What does it take to be a survivor in your book? I mean to really beat something like this?


Really it takes courage, it takes perseverance, it takes a determination and it takes a real positive attitude, and I think for people with cancer this is a most important trait that needs to be achieved because you know, half the battle is in your mind and to stay positive is extremely important.


Do you find that’s the case right off the bat or does it take a while to nurture that positivity and try to get over it?


Yes, I think this is one of our jobs — as health professionals, as health providers, as people who treat cancer, that nurture people that have cancer — to instill that positive attitude, to never give up. Very important.


So when Michael came to you, I mean, you really saved his life obviously, you were the one who knew right away what was going on.


I’m not sure if I saved his life but certainly I helped him, moved him along the recovery path, the treatment path and that’s very important. Timely treatment is always important with cancer.


But you were able diagnose something that the others seem to miss, that they couldn’t detect. How could you explain that? Was it just your experience?


I don’t know. The presentation (of the tumour), I must admit, was subtle, it wasn’t obvious. It does take a bit of experience and know-how and being tuned in and aware of symptoms and possibly what to look for.


Any cancer is a tough cancer I’m sure, but an actor depends on his voice for his speech. How did Michael take the news initially?


Well, surprisingly accepting. I think he is a strong individual deep inside and this was important for his ongoing treatment and his recovery.


What about families who pitch in and the kinds of bonds that become more enforced as treatment goes along? You must have seen some pretty incredible stuff unfold.


You know, families do get together and support each other and certainly a support system for anyone with cancer is ruggedly important. And unfortunately, some people don’t have that support system and go on it alone, and they need us and paraprofessionals and allied professionals to help them on their pathway to recovery.


Tonight’s event, obviously, is a wonderful way to bring people together, raise awareness, raise funds. Ultimately, is it one particular division of your work that you’re trying to raise funds and awareness for?


Primarily, we’re raising funds for cancer research, Head and neck cancer research. I consider it an investment in the future for our generation, for future generations. It’s the only way that we’re going to find a cure. Doing research is tough. There are no eureka moments. It just doesn’t happen right away. It’s hard work; the discoveries are out there; and new treatments, protocols are out there and they’ve got to be worked on and this is why we raise funds that aren’t readily available in our health-care system.


Well things are looking up. Nobody know what will happen to us at any time. But you’re pleased with Michael’s progress and what’s going on?


Well, so far so good, and we’re so pleased for him and absolutely delighted that he’s doing so well.


Jeanne Beker



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