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'Hip for Hawel' to battle brain cancer

Stephen Hawel and his family are battling brain cancer and family and friends are counting on you to ‘be Hip’.

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On Saturday, Sept. 28, Hip For Hawel with special guests The Almost Hip will raise funds for the Hawel family.
Tickets for a fun night with The Almost Hip for a good cause at Sammy Krenshaw’s (51 Broadway, Tillsonburg) are $20.


Stephen, who lives east of Courtland, was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive Grade 4 cancer that begins with the brain, in August 2018. He has not worked in the past 13 months, and was in the hospital for five weeks in April.

“There have been a lot of costs associated with the cancer diagnosis,” said Jennifer Hawel. “They (family and friends including Virginia Armstrong and Cheryl Barton) had asked if they could help out by throwing a fundraiser. At first we said no, for a little while. Then we said okay.”

Treating glioblastoma, the brain cancer that took Tragically Hip singer-songwriter Gord Downie’s life in 2017, is considered very difficult to remove, said Jennifer.

“Even if a surgeon goes in… and says you have a complete resection, there’s never a complete resection,” she noted. “It’s never fully gone. With this type of cancer, survival are usually 14-18 months from diagnosis. And there is almost always a recurrence. He’s actually on his third.

“Surgery is generally the first option. And then they go to a standard of care, which consists of six weeks of daily radiation and concurrent daily chemotherapy. So, potentially that standard of care helps for a while to keep it from coming back. But it’s a very smart cancer and it eventually knows how to regenerate around the chemotherapy. So they stop and have another surgery. We’ve had four surgeries in a year. He’s now on another chemotherapy.”

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Seizures are a side effect, she said.

The onset of glioblastoma was relatively quick for Stephen, now 36 years old.

“The surgeon said that it’s a fast growing tumour,” he said.

Symptoms started in May 2018 with mood swings and signs of depression, and he was initially diagnosed with depression. Two months later he was back to see the doctor with migraines.

“We’ve been together for 17 years and he doesn’t even get headaches,” said Jennifer. “He was diagnosed with migraines because it’s the most common symptom.”

A month later, on a family trip, he was felled by nausea, couldn’t eat, and it was difficult to keep him awake. They drove back from North Bay on a Friday and went to the hospital.

“They did a scan in Woodstock and told us right away there was a large mass on his brain,” said Jennifer, “and he needed to see a neurosurgeon as quick as possible. It was fast for us.”

“The doctors said that mine was pretty quick,” said Stephen. “I was in on the Friday and surgery on Monday.”

Dealing with cancer, Stephen says he takes it one day at at time.

“I just literally try to take things one day at a time,” said Stephen, who is in a cancer support group.

“I think you just try stay as positive as you can,” said Jennifer.

Tickets can be purchased through Opid Technologies, 35 Harvey Street, Tillsonburg (Monday to Friday, 8:30-4:30), Virginia Armstrong, Cheryl Barton (519-688-8429 at Remax in Tillsonburg.

While the entertainment on the 28th will be The Almost Hip, if Stephen works hard enough he might be able to learn a few guitar chords to join them for a song.

“I might be able to,” Stephen laughed.

There will also be a silent auction at Hip For Hawel, which will include NHL Toronto Maple Leaf tickets (gold seats) for a game in October vs Minnesota.

Stephen and Jennifer Hawel, with their sons Owen and Lucas, will be the beneficiaries of Hip For Hawel, a fundraiser on Saturday, Sept. 28 featuring The Almost Hip at Sammy Krenshaw’s. Stephen was diagnosed with glioblastoma brain cancer in August 2018. (Contributed photo)

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