Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Lifesaver a city treasure

Reflecting on a surgeon's dedication to battling cancer

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I've had a lot of questions for Dr. David Hochman since being diagnosed last fall with the second-most-deadly form of cancer in Canada.

But this week, in advance of Tuesday's second edition of the Bottoms Up! fundraiser in support of colorectal cancer awareness and treatment, my questions were more about him than me.

Why did Hochman, the surgeon who saved my life last fall, choose the less-than-glamorous speciality of colorectal surgery? And, just as importantly, why did he choose to return home to Winnipeg when he was being pursued by prestigious medical schools in North America.

As it turned out, the answers to both questions trace their origins to a single word.


It was having both sets of grandparents here, and it was because Winnipeg was such a familiar and comfortable place for his kids to grow up, that Hochman came home. And, before that, it was surgeon Morris Broder operating on his critically ill father's perforated bowel -- and saving his dad's life -- that initially inspired the then 17-year-old David Hochman to become a surgeon.

"We're blessed as a community to have him here," Allan Hochman, David's proud father, was telling me Wednesday.

Not that Allan had to convince me.

Or, for that matter, my Free Press colleague Brad Oswald.

"Dave," as we both call the 38-year-old doctor, saved Brad's life by performing more than one complicated surgery.

So it was that Tuesday, Brad and I sat in a corner of the Free Press building's third-floor atrium, reminiscing about our experiences; he about his rectal cancer, me about my colon cancer.

It was the same more or less private place we had retreated to just before my surgery late last November, when -- choking back the emotion -- I finally shared my diagnosis with Brad.

I leaned on him then, as someone who would know how I was feeling.

Now, nearly five months later, we could both be more reflective. I told him about how caring the treatment was at St. Boniface Hospital. From the pre-op nurse's tender touch on my hand, to the porter who made me laugh as he wheeled me into surgery, to the comforting words of the anesthetist, Dr. Chris Christodoulou.

"We watch over those who sleep."

And then Brad and I both talked about how lucky we are. Lucky to be alive. And lucky to have a doctor like David Hochman.

I think we both felt the same about the always-smiling young man who isn't much older than my son and daughter; he treats us with the same care he would show his father. Or, as Brad will tell you, "like family."

That kind of caring comes, at least in part, from Hochman's life-shaping time as a high school kid, wondering if his dad would survive surgery. And the emotions evoked at that influential age. Later, Hochman would tell me he tries to remember those feelings when he speaks with patients and their families.

"The stress, the anxiety, the fear."

Which reminded me of something Brad mentioned Tuesday, the day before the fifth anniversary of his diagnosis.

He put his survival in perspective. He said if you average the numbers, over that five-year span, about 4,700 Manitobans have been diagnosed with colon or rectal cancer. And 1,700 have died.

Hochman uses other numbers to make the case even more emphatically. Using current estimates, one in 27 Canadian men, and one in 31 women, will die as a result of colorectal cancer.

The more tragic part of those grim numbers is that, as Hochman and anyone else connected with the disease will tell you, they don't have to be that high. Colorectal cancer can literally be nipped in the bud with a timely colonoscopy.

Early detection such as that stops the cancer and saves lives. Even in cases such as mine, where the tumour is removed before it has spread, nine out of 10 patients will remain cancer-free.

But you need to help yourself, by watching for changes in your bowel movement and insisting on a colonoscopy if you are 50 or older.

As for us, the fortunate survivors of the disease, I'll let Brad deliver the bottom line on how he feels about everyone involved in saving his ass.

And especially his friend and doctor, David Hochman.

"I carry with me now the feeling of a debt I can never repay."

Which reminds me, tickets are still available to Tuesday's Bottoms Up! cocktails and munchies fundraiser at Fort Garry Place. Go the website, or call 204-787-1800.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 18, 2013 B1


Updated on Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 7:03 AM CDT: adds photo

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