News / Vancouver

Lui Passaglia opens up about battle against colon cancer

One word sent Canadian football legend Lui Passaglia’s world crumbling around him: cancer.

The former record-breaking punter and placekicker for the B.C. Lions was sitting in his doctor’s office in late summer 2013, his wife by his side, when he received the devastating diagnosis.

“My doctor said, ‘I think you have cancer,’” Passaglia told reporters during an emotional press conference in the B.C. Lions’ locker room Wednesday. “All of a sudden you’re in another world when you hear the word cancer. You’re sitting there and … thinking cancer. That means you’re going to die soon.”

Now in remission, Passaglia opened up about his battle against the disease at a news conference Wednesday to announce his involvement with Colon Cancer Canada’s Push for Your Tush walk and run in Vancouver. The event, taking place June 14, aims to raise awareness and funds for colon cancer research.

Before his diagnosis, Passaglia was getting ready to go on a trip to Europe when he experienced troubling symptoms that wouldn’t go away.

The lower back pain and bowel problems persisted for a month, and Passaglia decided to see his doctor.

Nearly five years earlier, Passaglia had undergone a colonoscopy that turned up normal. He never suspected his symptoms could be the result of a two-inch tumour.

Passaglia underwent surgery, along with five and a half months of chemotherapy and radiation treatment at the BC Cancer Agency, where he met other colon cancer patients and heard their stories.

Although Passaglia stayed silent throughout his battle, only sharing his diagnosis with family and close friends, he said he began to realize from his conversations with other patients the need for greater awareness about the colon cancer, affects more than 24,000 Canadians each year, according to Colon Cancer Canada.

“Going through the treatment and meeting people … there’s an education piece to this,” he said. “Men and women can, if they get screened early, this disease is preventable and beatable.”

Amy Elmaleh, co-founder and executive director of Colon Cancer Canada, said Passaglia’s involvement with the organization is a “huge opportunity” to raise awareness of colon cancer, which she said still carries a stigma for many people.

“People are so drawn to him,” she said. “We’ve been screaming from rooftops for years about colon cancer and getting screened, but I don’t think we have the same impact as somebody who really has a following and a fan base. “

Although he is cancer-free today, Passaglia said he is living “day by day” and still undergoes testing every three months.

While the one or two day wait following every test is nerve-wracking, he said he “wouldn’t change it for the world.”

“When I was in that doctor’s office and heard the word cancer, you don’t even know if you’re going to be around for six months or a year,” he said.

If his involvement with helping raise awareness of colon cancer can encourage even one person to get screened, Passaglia said he would feel as if he has done his job.

For patients who have been diagnosed with late stage colon cancer, Passaglia has some advice: “Never give up.”

“It’s like football games,” he said. “When that clock expires, that’s when the game’s over.”

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