| [Photo: Carlo Allegri,
"Last time they gave me an MRI I was as clean as an angel's drawers."
A while back, I visited rocker Ronnie Hawkins and wrote
a piece about how he had pancreatic cancer and had mere months to live.
The tumour was diagnosed last July when Ronnie got jaundice. He received the death sentence Aug. 13, following which old pals like Kris Kristofferson, Robbie Robertson and Bill Clinton rallied 'round for the remaining months of his rockin' rowdy life.
Then a few days ago, I get an e-mail that says, "The Hawk Starts His Pay-Off to the Big Rocker." Seems the Hawk is suddenly cancer-free -- "miraculous cure" are the words used -- and rallying 'round Toronto with a campaign to fight the lingering fear of SARS.
Huh? Miraculous cure? Did I miss something?
I track Ronnie down at the Royal York Hotel where he's been staying after his shocking announcement.
"The doctors can't believe it," he tells me. "The cancer's gone. The Big Rocker [as Ronnie calls God], the angels, all those prayers. Somethin' healed me."
He reminded me he'd been given six months to live and had been told by the doctors it was getting bigger. But then, he says, "At my last checkup they couldn't even find it. The last time they gave me an MRI, I was as clean as an angel's drawers. It's a miracle."
When Dr. Bryce Taylor operated on him after the diagnosis, he found that the tumour had grown around a vein. The doctors simply closed him up again.
So the prognosis was grim. Good Lord, we were all crying when Ronnie received a star on the Walk of Fame last year.
I was happy when I heard the good news, but puzzled, so I decided to talk to the doctors.
Hawkins's Peterborough cardiologist, Dr. Bill Hughes, says, "I can tell you that the last two imaging tests show that there is no disease. I can't explain what happened, but I'm delighted with the outcome. Ronnie is a great guy and he deserves a break."
The prognosis for pancreatic cancer is normally very bad, says Dr. Hughes. When I ask if it's possible that Ronnie never had cancer, he says, "We just don't know, cancer doesn't normally go away. Maybe it is a plain old miracle."
Dr. Taylor, Ronnie's surgeon, was my next call. Here's what he has to say: "I can't make a comment on the effectiveness of pot and whisky and faith healing but the findings on Ronnie's X-rays seem to have changed over the last eight months and no one could be more delighted than I am."
But how could it be, I ask.
"It's either, one, atypical cancer at the head of the pancreas (that's how it presented) that, for some reason beyond our knowledge, resolved itself, or, two, it is an extremely unusual presentation of a localized pancreatitis."
Dr. Taylor says the lump was "as hard as a rock and in just the spot that it causes all the symptoms and signs of a cancer, including jaundice, and on an X-ray it looked like a cancer."
"I'll be happier in a couple of years but X-rays seem to suggest that the hard lump has resolved."
Ronnie, naturally, ascribes his miracle to pot, booze and faith healing -- and of course his medical team. "These doctors are the best," he says.
He also credits Robbie Robertson who, he says, "sent me a brew from a medicine man made out of bark and berries" and the blues rock legend Lonnie Mack, who sent him a potion from a monk in France. "And there was this here woman doctor from Poland whose herbal medicine dates back to Egyptian times."
Hawkins says he was willing to try just about anything, "except goin' to Australia and lickin' one of them frogs on the ass. I wasn't going to do that, at least not until I French-kissed him first," he roars. "And I was careful not to take too many things," he says.
Now careful is never a word I would use to describe Ronnie Hawkins, who admits, "When I found out I was going to die, I was smokin' and drinkin', but I wasn't chasing women too hard because I was afraid that I would catch them and I wasn't feeling that good after three operations in 90 days."
Mary McGillis, Ronnie's manager, says she'd given up hope: "I had thousands of letters from people praying for Ronnie and offering alternative healing methods, but after speaking with his doctors I though that Ronnie was dead."
Wanda, Ronnie's wife, has another theory: "His attitude was never down, he made everyone laugh. He even joked about dying. There was always humour. That helped, and God up above."
She also mentions Adam, a 16-year-old healer from B.C., whose book, DreamHealer, is about healing oneself.
When the doctors told her the good news, she says "I was afraid to believe it, I was afraid of the disappointment. You still have to pinch me.
Looking to the future, Ronnie tells me, "Baby, I'm gettin' ready to rock 'n' roll, and those blue-haired girls [on the road] are demanding with their beehive hairdos. I may look like Santa Claus's older, demented brother but that's all right."
Before we say our goodbyes, Ronnie makes a final pitch for Toronto. He tells me he attended a Blue Jays game and dined in Chinatown this past week and "I wasn't worried about catchin' nothin'. I couldn't pay Toronto back 1% of what I owe it. It's the greatest city on the planet."
And then he adds that catching SARS would be as likely as "winning the lottery three times in a row."
That's probably true, Ronnie, but not the best analogy, perhaps, for someone who has just beaten incredible odds once.