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Gord Downie leaving 'a much greater mark than just music,' his doctor says

It hasn't been easy treating Gord Downie on tour this summer, his neuro-oncologist says, but he's impressed by his ability to handle the illness and still put on such gripping performances.

Downie has managed the tour 'amazingly well,' neuro-oncologist says

Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie has glioblastoma — an aggressive tumour that starts in the brain. (David Bastedo)

It hasn't been easy treating Gord Downie on tour this summer, his neuro-oncologist says, but he's impressed by his ability to handle the illness and still put on such gripping performances. 

"From what I hear, from what I've seen, it's absolutely electric," said Dr. James Perry, head of neurology at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. "It's emotional. There's not a dry eye in the house, especially during certain songs and he seems to be managing it amazingly well."

In December, Downie was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive, incurable form of brain cancer. Following the diagnosis, he vowed to join his bandmates of more than 30 years on their summer tour in support of their new album Man Machine Poem

Dr. James Perry is Gord Downie’s neuro-oncologist. He says the atmosphere at the Tragically Hip shows is 'absolutely electric.' (CBC News/ Martin Trainor)

'So much joy'

"It's been an interesting thing to watch so far," Perry said. "There have been no issues medically. He's done, and they've done, better than I could have possibly imagined and the crowds are evidence of that. There's just so much joy."

As for managing his time at Sunnybrook Hospital as well as treating Downie on tour, Perry said it has been hectic.

"It's a challenge," he said. "You know what they say, if you want something done, give it to somebody busy. I'll look forward to a break in a couple of weeks." 

Tragically Hip's performances throughout their summer tour have been emotional and have left many fans in the audience teary eyed, says Dr. James Perry. (Kevin Light/Reuters)

Perry said it's too soon to say which memory will be his favourite because the tour is just halfway done. But there are many positive things that stand out. 

"It's going to be the hope that will be provided for my patients and patients across Canada that are going to benefit from his courage," he said. "The hope and awareness he's bringing and the unprecedented amount of money that will be focused on this type of tumour."

'A greater mark than just his music'

In the past, it has been difficult to raise funds for glioblastoma, a relatively unknown and less common type of cancer that desperately needs research funding for new therapies, according to Perry.

"Everybody's talking about Gord and about the efforts to raise money. It's just a heart-wrenching revelation for most people," he said. "It's not about me, it's about our patients and it's about him. It's about his ability to leave a much greater mark than just his music. This is going to be a transformational amount of money."

Gord Downie's doctor says the frontman and the Tragically Hip has raised an unprecedented amount of money and attention for glioblastoma. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Following the tour, the band will get together with Sunnybrook Hospital and decide how to direct the money donated to the hospital's Gord Downie Fund for Brain Cancer Research. The money will likely be used to acquire more brain tumour research space and build more facilities at Sunnybrook Hospital for treatment. 

Perry said he can't provide an update on Downie's condition but for fans who want to know how he is, the energy he presents onstage is evidence enough. 

"If you want to know how he's doing, go to a show or watch YouTube clips from the shows that have gone on and you'll see him dancing. He's singing amazingly well. His pitch is great and he's having the time of his life." 

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