ORONO, Maine — Shawn Walsh, who has turned the Maine men’s ice hockey program into a national power and guided it to two NCAA Championships, began the battle of his life Friday when he underwent surgery to remove a cancerous kidney.
According to a report in the Portland Press Herald, the surgery, though successful, is far from putting Walsh in the clear. Reports indicate that the cancer has spread to Walsh’s lymph nodes under his breast bone in his chest.
The cancer was diagnosed as renal cell carcinoma, which, according to the Press Herald, is the most common type of kidney cancer. Early diagnosis of the disease presents a 60-75 percent five-year survival rate. But when the cancer spreads to the lymph nodes, that same survival rate decreases drastically to 5-15 percent. Should the cancer spread further into other organs, that rate decreases to five percent.
Walsh is said to be considering a 20-day intensive treatment at UCLA’s cancer facility following the two- to three-week recovery period from Friday’s operation.
Meanwhile, the hockey community has rallied behind the often controversial coach. Walsh told the Press Herald that, “the support has been heartwarming. The hockey community is a fraternity.
“This is something a lot of people have to undergo and you’ve got to be as strong as you can. My wife has been phenomenal and my family has been great.”
University of Maine officials said that Walsh will keep administrative and non-coaching duties to a minimum this summer, but will try to stay involved.
“I think it’s the best way for him to handle things,” said Maine junior defenseman Doug Janik to the Bangor Daily News. “Coaching comes naturally to him. It’s his normal way of life, and keeping a normal routine will keep him positive and motivated.
“As a team, we’re going to try to support him as much as we can like he has always supported us.”
Michigan State head coach Ron Mason, who gave Walsh his start in coaching while Walsh was a student at Bowling Green, said he was “completely shocked” by the news. Walsh coached under Mason at Michigan State, and his ex-wife is Mason’s daughter.
“It has stayed with me ever since I heard. We’re all sick about it,” said Mason to the Daily News.
In 16 seasons, Walsh’s Black Bears have compiled a 379-203-37 record, with seven Frozen Four appearances. He led Maine to its first NCAA Championship in 1993, then was suspended for one year, and the school barred from the NCAA tournament for two seasons, due to various NCAA violations. Walsh returned to lead the Black Bears to another championship in 1999.
This past season, Walsh led his Black Bears to the Hockey East tournament championship and another berth in the NCAA Frozen Four, where they fell to the eventual-national champion, North Dakota.