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Stuntman Stu celebrates leukemia remission at gala

Israel Cancer Research Fund (ICRF) honoree Stu Schwartz, third from left, is seen with, from left, ICRF president Jeffrey Bernstein, gala honorary co-chair Susan Wener, gala co-chair Julie Wiener, gala honorary co-chair Jonathan Wener, and gala co-chair Robert Spector.

As the public address announcer for the Ottawa Senators, Stu (Stuntman) Schwartz naturally reached for a hockey analogy to express his joy over the fact that his leukemia is in remission. On May 27, he celebrated the one-year anniversary of a life-saving bone marrow transplant, which was made possible by an anonymous donor.

“Beating cancer, having my transplant go so well, that to me is the Stanley Cup,” an emotional Schwartz, 42, shared with a thousand people attending the 40th annual gala of the Israel Cancer Research Fund (ICRF), which was held at Place des Arts in Montreal on June 12.

Schwartz, a Montreal native who is a popular morning show host on Ottawa’s MAJIC 100 radio station, was honoured by the ICRF for the courage and initiative he has shown in the face of his illness. Diagnosed in February 2016, Schwartz was still in hospital, beginning chemotherapy, when he began sharing his personal journey to inspire others in similar circumstances, raising hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process.

Schwartz had experience in leveraging his public profile for a good cause through social media: he had earlier created the #NoMoreBullies educational campaign for schools.

Immediately after news of his diagnosis, community members rallied in Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto to find a bone marrow match for Schwartz, and within two months, one was found.

Wanting to give back, Schwartz launched the #StuStrong campaign, which to date has raised $315,000 for leukemia and stem cell research at Ottawa Hospital.

Proceeds from the ICRF gala will also be directed to that field. ICRF supports collaborative projects between Montreal and Israeli researchers, who spend time at university-affiliated hospitals in Montreal.

In April, Schwartz was awarded the Governor General’s Medal for volunteerism. The ICRF gave him an honorary research fellowship.

A big thrill for Schwartz that evening was sharing the stage with CJAD drive-home host Aaron Rand, who was  Schwartz’s idol when he was younger and a major reason why he wanted to get into broadcasting.

Schwartz, who grew up in Dollard des Ormeaux and attended Herzliah High School, left Montreal in 1994 to pursue that dream. He attributes his survival skills in part to what he learned attending the Y Country Camp (it was the YM-YWHA that organized a marrow donor event in Montreal).

The moniker “Stuntman” was given to him thanks to his antics at a rock music station early in his career and has stuck ever since.

Schwartz, the father of two children, said that being told he had cancer was “like getting hit by a truck head-on.”

His initial reaction was, “Why me? But the next morning, I said, I don’t know how, but I’m going to beat this thing. It’s not been easy, I’ve had a lot of dark moments,” he said, choking up.

Schwartz is a big guy with the authoritative voice of an announcer, but he is not ashamed to shed tears.

“I cry at everything now,” he said. “I’m convinced my donor was a woman; I’m a wreck, I can’t watch movies anymore. My kids say, ‘Daddy’s crying again.’”

The honorary co-chairs of the gala, which featured American pop singer Andy Grammer, were Susan and Jonathan Wener. Susan Wener candidly shared her experience as a two-time cancer survivor in her 2014 memoir, Resilience, and in a TED Talk delivered last winter.

She applauded the ICRF’s Montreal chapter for raising $60 million over its history, which has permitted scientists here and in Israel to work together on about 2,400 research projects.

“This organization does not believe in silos, it believes in coming together and working in teams, gathering and sharing information and allowing us to have the best of what they have discovered. ICRF will find a cure,” she said.

Four Israelis are currently doing research in Montreal on three-year post-doctoral ICRF fellowships, under the supervision of Dr. Walter Gotlieb, an oncologist at the Jewish General Hospital. Three are from Soroka Hospital in Be’er Sheva and the fourth is from the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem.

MC Catherine Verdon Diamond, a host on Breakfast Television, also spoke of how the disease touched her life. Her father died of brain cancer last November, after a three-year battle. Verdon Diamond was abandoned as a baby – left on a balcony – and adopted by a French-Canadian couple.

Because of her father’s work as an engineer, she lived in Israel for four years as a teen. “Israel is my second home; that’s the reason I’m here,” she said.