By Julie Fortier
“I looked in his eyes and I knew what I had,” said Michael Douglas at the annual benefit event for the McGill Head and Neck Cancer Fund on May 3 as he recalled his first visit to Dr. Saul Frenkiel in August 2010.
“There was a moment of hesitation and then he said ‘we’ll need a biopsy,’ ” added the Hollywood star, who was diagnosed with stage-4 throat cancer soon after that visit to the Jewish General Hospital.
“I know you can’t punch out your internist but there was a definite feeling of doing that,” he added, referring to one of several doctors who had missed the illness.
The star announced early this year that successful radiotherapy and chemotherapy treatments have allowed him to beat the illness. Grateful to Frenkiel for the diagnosis and for arranging treatment in New York, where he lives, Douglas agreed to be the special honoree at this year’s Head and Neck fundraiser, telling his Montreal doctor early on that he would be happy to do “anything he could to help” the JGH and McGill team.
Douglas’s generosity included him and his wife, actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, taking part in a couple of golf foursomes at Gray Rocks Resort in Mont-Tremblant, where the couple owns a home. The foursomes were one of the prizes auctioned off during the evening, along with travel, jewelry and artwork. The evening’s festivities also included a surprise video address by Céline Dion, whose husband René Angélil fought his own battle against cancer.
“It was a magnificent, once-in-a-lifetime event,” said Frenkiel, Chair of McGill’s Department of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, after the gala. “Head and neck cancers affect a vital area of our body, functions such as speaking and swallowing. Treatments can be disfiguring so there’s a social stigma, there are visible scars and deformities so bringing a spokesman like Michael Douglas to talk about it and bring it out in the open is really important.”
“I’m deeply touched by the thought and effort that went into this event,” said Douglas at the end of the evening to the crowd of nearly 600 guests.
Organizers estimate the 17th fundraiser for the McGill Head and Neck Cancer Fund brought in close to $2 million.